HAMNET Report 10th April 2022

The internet is great, but the internet goes down. Disasters, government interference, and simple technical difficulties often fell the most powerful communication tool ever made. One man wants to change that and is building what he calls the “prepper version of the internet.” It’s called the Reticulum Network Stack and it’s designed to exist alongside or on top of the traditional internet.

Reticulum is meant to be a streamlined communications tool that can be quickly deployed in the case of systemic telecom failure, with minimal lift and a heavy focus on encryption and privacy. All of it is built on the back of an entirely new protocol that aims to be more resilient than IP, or Internet Protocol, which is a set of software rules that govern the flow of information on the internet.

“A lot of fragmented solutions and limited tools exist, but in reality, what was really missing was a complete communications stack designed for use by normal people without centralized coordination of any kind,” Reticulum’s designer, who goes by “unsignedmark” explained in the Reddit thread announcing the project. “[It is] a system that would allow anyone easily to build secure and resilient long-range networks with simple, available tools. [These are] systems that would work and allow secure and private comms even when the po-po hits the fan.”

unsignedmark is Mark Qvist, a computer engineer who has spent his life building and managing computer networks. “I ran a small-scale rural ISP at one point, providing high-speed Internet service to one of the many areas that had been completely neglected by larger service providers,” he told the publication Motherboard. “While it was definitely not the most profitable thing in the world, and was pretty hard work, it was also very rewarding and an incredibly fun learning experience.”

Reticulum can run on just about anything, including the teensy Raspberry Pi Zero. According to Qvist, people with minimal telecom and computer knowledge could put together a long-range messaging system for their community in about an hour using Reticulum, communicating over any number of available channels to network peers.

“Want to extend it to the next town over VHF radio?” Qvist asked on Reddit. “If you already have a modem and a radio, that’s 5 minutes to set up. I really tried to make this as flexible as possible while still being very easy to use if you have a bit of computer and radio experience.”

It certainly looks promising, and hopefully will be picked up by, and developed in many countries. Thanks to vice.com for the article, written by Matthew Gault.

Various news reports from the Otago area in New Zealand at the beginning of this week reported on a search for a 49 year old father and his 14 year old son, who had been missing for three days since going into the Rowallan Forest in Fiordland on a hunting trip.

Not being suitably equipped for overnight stays in the bush, and without adequate food and water, the pair was deemed very vulnerable, Ground and air searches with thermal sensing cameras on Sunday afternoon and night were unsuccessful, but luckily the two came walking out of the bush near Lilliburn Valley Road on Monday. Police Search and Rescue personnel, LandSAR, Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (AREC) personnel, and search dogs had been sent to the search area.

Thanks to the Otago Daily Times and Southgate Amateur Radio News for the details.

After the events that took place 10 days ago, when Cape Town HAMNET members spent a couple of days searching for an emergency transmission emanating from a small aircraft in a hangar near Cape Town Airport, some interest has been generated amongst members in formal “foxhunting”, not necessarily to be confused with the radio sporting event the term is usually known for.

Michael ZS1MJT, our Regional Director has quickly made a 3 element tape-measure Yagi on a pvc pipe boom that is resonant on 121.5MHz, for use in finding a beacon or a downed aircraft, as circumstances dictate. Other amateurs are working with Michael to build a Doppler receiver, wideband enough to be used for any kind of pin-point activity where a search for an errant transmission is on the go. The Cape Town Amateur Radio Centre did a project build of something like this about 20 years ago, with a pair of antennas mounted to a boom that could be rotated by hand, and which nulled out the signal if your antenna was tangential to that signal. It appears that the original PIC processor used is virtually unobtainable now, so research is underway to find an alternative.

An inexpensive active antenna system is the preferred option, so that many or all HAMNET members can have at their disposal such a system in case direction finding is necessary at their location.

A WhatsApp Group has been set up for all members interested in helping to find such a transmission in the Western Cape, so that a quick response can be generated and as many bearings of a signal heard can be taken as possible, to narrow a search area down.

Finally, here is a summary of disaster relief efforts ongoing as we speak in Ukraine.

Ukrainian authorities called on the residents of Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk regions to evacuate while it is still possible, warning that further enemy bombardments could cut off the evacuation corridors.

Evacuations through several humanitarian corridors were successfully carried out on 5 – 6 April. Among them, over 15,400 people from Kramatorsk, Slovyansk, Lozova and Pokrovsk. Over 5,000 people were evacuated from Mariupol and Berdyansk and over 1,200 people from four cities in the Luhansk Oblast. 11 buses sent to evacuate people from the cities of Melitopol and Tokmak are currently en route to Zaporizhzhia.

On 5 April, a fourth UN inter-agency humanitarian convoy successfully reached some 17,000 people through the delivery of 8 trucks of critical supplies in Sievierodonestsk, Eastern Ukraine, in collaboration with EU humanitarian partners. The convoy brought food rations, flour, plastic sheeting, blankets and four hospital electricity generators.

The European Commission is also coordinating the delivery of assistance via the EU Civil Protection Mechanism to Ukraine, from all 27 Member States and two Participating States. Almost 14,000 tonnes of assistance from these countries and items from the rescEU medical stockpile have been delivered to Ukraine, via the UCPM logistic hubs in Poland, Romania and Slovakia.

However, on 6 April, enemy troops blocked the work of a humanitarian centre in occupied Berdiansk, detaining workers and volunteers.

And so the world watches, in trepidation…

This is Dave Reece ZS1DFR reporting for HAMNET in South Africa.