Saturday, March 29, 2008

Looking For A New Repeater Site Part 1

Those of you who keep an eye on our status page may have noticed the intermittent red dots next to Helderberg...

Being a relatively small WISP one sometimes needs to make use of other organisations infrastructure to provide clients with service.

I've not been overly thrilled with goings on up on Helderberg of late and felt it was time to pay the site a visit.

What I saw on arriving up there left me speechless.

It seems that every cowboy in the Western Cape who can bolt an aerial to a pole has been popping repeaters up on Helderberg.

Driving up the road leading to the repeaters I was gobsmacked to see that some enterprising individual was actually building a new mast in what appears to be the middle of a forest.

This budding wireless entrepeneur has been toiling away and now has what looks like a 15m mast planted on the side of the mountain. Unfortunately it seems that he's forgotten some of the basics of physics - specifically Freznel zones. I'm so glad I paid attention at 'varsity ;-)

But wait it gets better!

Towers aren't cheap. The last quote I was given for supported masts up to 15m was R1,000 a meter. There has been a 30% increase in the price of steel since then. Electricity's gone up by close on 20% and the price of zinc has also increased. Maybe that's why our budding wireless entrepeneur decided to skimp on the stay wire shackles. Instead of using galvanised round bar secured to a concrete block, he used some rusty chains.

The question now is how long before this tower falls over?

Moving further up the track we saw the military and municipal repeater sites.

This is an extremely important site. Apart from the local Police stations all using it as a radio repeater, the SA Navy also makes use of it, as - no doubt - do Denel.

Even though the masts are behind barbed wire they are not immune to the local cowboys. From talking to the farmer who owns the land on the other side of the fence, it seems people are driving up, parking their cars in his farmyard, jumping the fence and doing what they want on the two government masts.

The begs the question: When last did somebody from their signals section physically visit their repeater site?

The farmer I mentioned previously hasn't been sitting around idly. He's been renting the roof of his workshop to the guys who aren't too keen on getting their clothes torn climbing through the barb wire fence.

How this lot can actually work is beyond me. One sectoral antenna's path is blocked by the ground, the goverment comms shack and the neighbouring forest. But who knows, maybe it's just there to interfere with the oppositions repeaters. Either way it's a mess and I don't want our equipment to be anywhere near that lot.

Farmer Man needs to be careful. His next child may just be born without fingers or toes...

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