The AREDN® acronym stands for “Amateur Radio Emergency Data Network” and it provides a way for Amateur Radio operators to create high-speed ad hoc Data Networks for use in Emergency and service-oriented communications.
For many years amateur radio operators and their served agencies have relied on voice transmissions for emergency or event communications. A typical message-passing scenario involved conveying the message to a radio operator who would write or type it onto a standard ICS-213 form. The message would then be relayed by radio to another operator who would write or type it on another ICS-213 form at the receiving end. The form would typically be hand-delivered to the recipient who would read and sign the form. Any acknowledgement or reply would then be handled through the same process from the receiving end back to the originator.
This tried-and-true scenario has worked well, and it continues to work for handling much emergency and event traffic. Today, however, digital transmission is more commonly used instead of traditional methods and procedures. The hardcopy ICS-213 form is giving way to the Winlink electronic form, with messages being passed using digital technologies such as AX.25 packet, HF Pactor, Fldigi, and others.
In today’s high-tech society people have become accustomed to different ways of handling their communication needs. The preferred methods involve short messaging and keyboard-to-keyboard communication, along with audio-video communication using Voice over IP (VoIP) and streaming technologies.
The amateur radio community is able to meet these high-bandwidth digital communication requirements by using FCC Part 97 amateur radio frequency bands to send digital data between devices which are linked with each other to form a self-healing, fault-tolerant data network. Some have described this as an amateur radio version of the Internet. Although it is not intended for connecting people to the Internet, an AREDN® mesh network will provide typical Internet or intranet-type applications to people who need to communicate across a wide area during an emergency or community event.
An AREDN® network is able to serve as the transport mechanism for the preferred applications people rely upon to communicate with each other in the normal course of their business and social interactions, including email, chat, phone service, document sharing, video conferencing, and many other useful programs. Depending on the characteristics of the AREDN® implementation, this digital data network can operate at near-Internet speeds with many miles between network nodes.
A foundational design goal of the AREDN® project is to minimize the technical expertise that is normally required to configure a robust radio network. Devices running AREDN® firmware are in many ways self-configuring so that users without a background in IP networking can easily build or connect to a local RF network. As mentioned in a recent Amateur Radio Digital Communications (ARDC) annual report, “AREDN® software allows volunteers to set up a node with minimal expertise and effort, and because the software configures the network automatically, advanced network technology is not needed.”
This facilitates the primary goal of the AREDN® project, which is to empower licensed amateur radio operators to quickly and easily deploy high-speed data networks when and where they are needed, as a service both to the hobby and the community. This is especially important in cases when traditional “utility” services (electricity, phone lines, or Internet services) become unavailable. In those cases an off-grid amateur radio emergency data network may be a lifeline for communities impacted by a local disaster.