Originally appears on Wyoming Survival.  – NCS

I’m always looking for different, new to me, usable technology. Somewhere along the line I stumbled into Meshtastic Mesh Networks. This is basically the same as Gotenna but not running on the MURS bands and not near as expensive.

What is Meshtastic?

From their website: “Meshtastic lets you use inexpensive (~$30/board) GPS radios as extensible mesh communicators. It’s great for hiking, skiing, climbing – essentially any hobby where you might not have reliable internet access. Each member of your mesh can see the location and distance of all other members and receive text messages sent to your private group chat. Data automatically forwards as needed, so everyone can receive messages from even the furthest member.”

I am always thinking in the survivalist/prepper mindset when I look at items like this. The main use I see for this is at a homestead, retreat, or ranch. You would have many nodes placed around the property with a small solar panel to each. They in turn create the mesh network. Then you and your members would always have a phone/tablet along with the node thats connected to that device with you at all times. If a message needs to be sent you just use the Meshtastic app and sent a message to the desired recipient and the nodes do the rest. Pretty damn handy I think! And its an independent network YOU built yourself!! Self-Reliance at its best.

So the first thing you will need is a couple nodes that work with Meshtastic firmware. Their website gives links to the nodes. I used LILYGO® TTGO LORA32 V1.0 868/915Mhz these ones do NOT have GPS on them. I don’t need to be tracked anymore than I already am.

You will need someway to power these. I went with one 18650 battery and a battery holder.

So the Meshtastic website has a guide to set these up and all the programs to download. I started following their instructions on their website and right off the bat what it told me to look for in the COMMS port wasn’t right. I downloaded the driver it told me to download and that didn’t fix the problem of the comms port either. I went back to a YouTube video I had seen about flashing the firmware and did what he did and it worked. Not sure why the website had such difficult instructions.

So all I had to do was download the correct firmware zip file which has firmware for multiple different nodes and the flash program. Unzip the firmware file. Open the flash program. Select the correct firmware for this node and flash it. It was that simple. I flashed the 2nd node and I was in business!

I then connected the two nodes with the two cell phones that have the Meshtastic app on. I had to get the app off the Amazon Appstore. When you connect the app to the node it will ask for a code. The code is on the screen of the node. You just put the code into the app and it connects. Once each node was connected to a phone it was time to see if these things worked.

Usually when I try something like this they never work the first time and I end up wanting break things but this actually worked! I sent text from one phone to the other with zero problems.

Once I knew they worked it was time to start testing them. The two main things I wanted to test where how easily are the signals detected and what distance can I get out of them with the stock antenna.

I started off by trying to determine how easily they are detected by my SIGINT equipment. I took my Uniden BCD436HP, turned on the close call feature, and stuck it in between the two nodes. I sent a message from one node to the other node and got nothing on the Uniden. I tried multiple times but the close call feature would not pick up the signal. I went and got my frequency counter to see exactly what frequency these were broadcasting on. I set the counter right next to one of the antennas and sent a message. It stayed on 903 MHZ. I then turned on my SDR on my computer and put it on 903 MHZ and sent another message. It turned out it send on 903.100 MHZ. I took my digital scanner and dialed in that frequency. I sent a message and got nothing on the scanner. The SDR is picking up the signal but the scanner is not. I could see the signal bar on the scanner moving but no noise came through.

So I moved to another piece of equipment. I moved to the ALINCO DJ-X11T. I punched in the frequency and turned the squelch to zero. I sent a message. Finally I heard something being sent. I turned the squelch to 1 and sent the same message as before and it barely broke the squelch. The nodes were about 6ft from the receiver.

I decided to go all out and I setup 4 scanners going all at once. I had the Uniden BCD436HP close call going, the Whistler TRX-1 spectrum sweeper going, an older Whistler with signal stalker going, and the ALINCO DJ-X11T and its signal stalker going all at the same time. I sent a 160 character message from one node to another. It takes about 38 seconds to send that message counting the nodes talking to each other. NONE of the scanners pulled the frequency that was being used. I tried multiple times but none of them showed the frequency that was being used

So what this tells me is that it isn’t that easy to pick up the signal with normal off the shelf equipment. I’m not saying state level couldn’t see it easy but as for normal people its not going to be easy.

So the next test is distance testing.

The distance testing was pretty simple. I had my setup and my friend had his. We went out to 1 mile and I sent a message. It worked both ways. We went to 1.8 miles and it still worked both ways. Now keep in mind I’m in the Wyoming desert and there is NOTHING blocking the signal. I’m sure it wouldn’t be this good in a forest or city. I don’t feel the need to test any further distance in this environment. I know at 2 miles it would work fine and a setup like this I wouldn’t expect to get much further.

So my final tests was to see if these would work with a wifi only tablet. Unlike alot of guys on Instagram, I really don’t want to be packing a phone around thats pinging the cell towers revealing our location. I have two tablets I use for my comms class to run an SDR and ANDFLMSG apps. I installed the Meshtastic app on both tablets, linked each tablet to a node, and was up and running. The video above shows them working. Its the same exact process as installing it on a phone.

So the main problem I have had with these so far is when I changed the speed that the messages are sent. There are four speeds. Short, medium, long, and longest. The shorter the distance the faster the message sends. The only fully reliable mode was longest. The other three modes wouldn’t send reliability. I just went back to longest option.

My final thoughts in these are they are a GREAT addition to a comms plan. I think this would be a great addition to a group of survivalists in the same town or on a homestead. I think most normal people will be hard pressed to find, decode, and exploit these nodes. I do not think they would be that great for tactical comms. You’re stuck with one frequency and one mode of operation. Maybe these in ADDITION to a normal radio.

I love the idea of building your own comms network that is independent of the internet or cell towers. I would definitely recommend these to anyone with the same way of thinking just stay away the the GPS nodes.