Selecting Radio Hardware
The amateur radio community has recognized the benefits of using inexpensive commercial WISP radios to create AREDN® networks. Each of these devices come with the vendor’s firmware pre-installed, but by following a few simple steps this firmware can be replaced with an AREDN® firmware image.
Several open source software projects have been adapted and enhanced to create the AREDN® firmware, including OpenWRT (Open Wireless Router) and OLSR (Optimized Link State Routing protocol).
The AREDN® team builds specific firmware images tailored to each type of radio, and the current list of supported devices is found on the AREDN® website. For Stable firmware this list is found in the Supported Platform Matrix. For a complete list of all supported hardware, including both Stable Release and Nightly Build firmware, refer to the Supported Devices list.
There is additional guidance on the features and characteristics of specific devices in the Device Selection Chart on the AREDN® website.
When selecting a device for your AREDN® hardware there are several things to consider in your decision.
Radios should be purchased for the specific frequency band on which they will operate. Currently AREDN® supports devices which operate in several bands. Check the frequency and channel chart on the AREDN® website for the latest information.
Many devices have an integrated dual-polarity MIMO antenna which helps to leverage multipath propagation. AREDN® has always supported and recommended using MIMO hardware, since these devices typically outperform single chain radios when used as mesh nodes.
Radios can be purchased separately from the antenna, so it is possible to have more than one antenna option for a radio in order to optimize AREDN® nodes for varying deployment conditions.
Costs of devices range from $25 to several hundred dollars for a complete node/antenna system, so there are many options even for the budget-conscious operator.
Some older or lower cost devices have a limited amount of onboard memory, but firmware images continue to grow in size and functionality. Consider purchasing a device with more memory over one with less memory.
Check the maximum power output of the device, since some devices have lower power capabilities.
One of the best sources of detailed hardware information is a manufacturer’s datasheet, usually available for download from the manufacturer’s website. Currently AREDN® supports dozens of device models from manufacturers including GL-iNet, Mikrotik, TP-LINK, and Ubiquiti Networks.
If you are just getting started with AREDN® you can easily begin with one of the low-cost devices that comes with an integrated antenna and a PoE unit. If you are expanding your AREDN® network with more sophisticated equipment, you may choose a standalone radio attached to a high-gain antenna.
See the Network Design Guide for more information about constructing robust mesh networks.