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Low-Cost Mobile Data Solutions Wanted

Matthew Hinman

We've all seen WXWORX and RaySat, both of which are very expensive. I've also heard it said that WXWORX's data is not accurate or reliable, and does not come from the NWS system.

What other choices are there?

Some folks use cell phone modems, which are slow, and when you're spotting/chasing out in the country, you may not have any data at all.

I looked at WA4DSY's web page featuring an RF 56K modem. Some of the equipment investment is about as much as the WXWORX solution, but there obviously is no monthly fee associated with it. Could such a system allow you to access your home DSL/cable connection over the ham bands and grab the NWS imagery and data? Is this possible? Is it reasonable?

Some of us want to do it on the cheap, and I'm no exception. I'd like reliable solutions for data in the field, but without great expense.

I'd love to see comments!

73
Matthew NA5K
 
You can't get both universal coverage and a cheap price. Either you have to pay for the universal coverage (e.g., WX-WORX) or you have to go with the next best thing ...

1) Cheapest and easiest thing to do is get a Cingular data card. There is plenty of information on this topic on the board. I would search for "Ericsson," "data card," etc. You can get a data card for free if you sign up for a two year plan. Unlimited data for $80/mo plus junk fees. Reminder: You can return a Cingular product and cancel your contract within 30 days if you are not "satisfied." I have had great luck with Cingular in the Plains. But, again, it is not universal.

Others correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe you can buy the data card from a 3rd party and pay month-to-month data access through Cingular.

2) Wifi ...
 
Wifi may work, but only in limited areas. Another thing is that any cellular service is subject to terribly slow speeds and limited access. Here in central Texas, there are numerous dead cellular spots that cover sometimes 200 square miles.

--
73
Matthew NA5K
 
We've all seen WXWORX and RaySat, both of which are very expensive. I've also heard it said that WXWORX's data is not accurate or reliable, and does not come from the NWS system.[/b]


Hmmm, don't want to be argumentative here, but here is a brief quote right from xmwx site.

Trusted Weather Sources
WxWorx, an affiliate of Baron Services (the nation’s leading provider of analytical weather services to the TV Broadcast and emergency management industries), is the provider of the location-specific weather data and groundbreaking, patented technology powering the XM WX Weather data service. All weather data is collected from well-established government (e.g., the National Weather Service, U.S. Navy) and private sources. This same information is used today by television stations across the U.S. providing weather information to over 235 million people.
[/b]

Granted, obviously not exclusive data from NWS, but it would seem that some of their data does originate from NWS.




What other choices are there?
[/b]



Cell phone, wifi, are probably the main choices aside from something like wxworx.


Some folks use cell phone modems, which are slow, and when you're spotting/chasing out in the country, you may not have any data at all.

I looked at WA4DSY's web page featuring an RF 56K modem. Some of the equipment investment is about as much as the WXWORX solution, but there obviously is no monthly fee associated with it. Could such a system allow you to access your home DSL/cable connection over the ham bands and grab the NWS imagery and data? Is this possible? Is it reasonable?
[/b]



Not sure about this one. I have no doubt that other new technology will be available in the future, but in the mean time, cell phone and wifi data is probably the cheapest route.


Some of us want to do it on the cheap, and I'm no exception. I'd like reliable solutions for data in the field, but without great expense.

I'd love to see comments!

73
Matthew NA5K
[/b]


Trust me, I feel your pain....lol Chasing in it self is not cheap these days. Gas prices alone are a killer, not to mention overnight expenses etc. Cell Phone and wifi type setups offer a decent means of data while in the field. Its not full time data, but is enough to get you in a good chasable area for the day. I have chased without any data in the field and still made some storms worth seeing. On days where things go as forecast, this is usually not a problem, but as we all know weather has a way of changing from minute to minute. Probably the best advice is, chase within your means. If you cannot afford wxworx, use a cell phone or wifi setup, if you can't afford cell/wifi, then do your best before leaving home to make a good forecast, and make data stops at libraries etc. It can be done! For the most part, I believe (self included) most chasers today are fairly spoiled with the ease at which we are able to receive data in the field. Personally I don't suffer from this....I enjoy every minute of it, :p but thats me. I do however have a great appreciation for storm chasers of old, who did it with virtually no data in the field. Good forecast, and good use of eyes and instincts once out there.

Just use the tools you have at the moment and save for the future. "Reliable and cheap" is possible, but unfortunately there are always limitations to deal with.
 
Hmmm, don't want to be argumentative here, but here is a brief quote right from xmwx site.
Granted, obviously not exclusive data from NWS, but it would seem that some of their data does originate from NWS.[/b]

Interesting. I probably misunderstood Derek Deroche when he said to me (about XM WX):
The other bad thing I have heard is that the resolution on the
radar is not the greatest. From what I understand, this system uses it's
own radar manipulations and doesn't stream it from the Weather Service
like many of the online sites do. So the there is not a lot of fine
scale resolution with it.


Looks good on screen, though. A lot of folks recommend the GRLevelX software, but again you need solid hardware connections for it to be reliable.

I'm sure this topic has been hashed over a thousand times, but I'm relatively new to anything beyond field spotting.

Thanks!
 
We've all seen WXWORX and RaySat, both of which are very expensive. I've also heard it said that WXWORX's data is not accurate or reliable, and does not come from the NWS system.

Matthew NA5K
[/b]

WxWORX radar imagery is derived from NEXRAD and post processed with Baron Services proprietary algorithms. It is composite reflectivity and only has 3 bit dBz rendered contours and is polygonally rendered with a resolution that fits in the 38400 bit stream broadcast from the XM SV(s). The compressed radar imagery includes the Baron Services SCIT storm tracking with "threat cone" and shear markers. With a little experience in radar interpretation and understanding the limitations of the compressed formatting, it is highly useful in chasing/spotting and the availability and reliability metrics of the service have been very high in my experience. (I have seen a data dropout on only 1 event last year that was independently verified by another user.

It is not inexpensive.

Keep in mind that for many years chasers in the "late Pleistocene" (mid 70s to mid 90s) era of chasing were highly effective with the scraps of information gleaned from WX radio, amateur radio, media, and most importantly the "Mark I eyeballs".

When visibility is poor or at night, mobile radar imagery really helps, but technology is just a tool and the ability to adjust to changing conditions and be in the vicinity of a favorable storm environment and have the logistical capability of being a safe and advantageous observation point(s) is more important.

Some of the video I have watched from 12MAY05 WTX chasers (some of whom had WXWORX) found the storm "de jure" or should I say it "found them" :blink: due to poor road options.

A good "now caster" over the phone may be your best option if reliable mobile data in your "theatre of operations" is not available.

Craig
 
Wi-Fi is your absolutaly cheepest way to go . you will have to find a hot spot. They are not hard to find. Much easier that having to stop by a NWS office like in the older days. You can also check in at local libraries. many have internet connections available.
Next I would go with an air card such as the Cingular one mentioned above. I have the Verizon Air card. It was $99 and service is $59/month (two year contract) I get high speed internet with it. (faster than my cable modem at home) I havn't verified how good the coverage is out on the road much.
 
Wifi may work, but only in limited areas. Another thing is that any cellular service is subject to terribly slow speeds and limited access. Here in central Texas, there are numerous dead cellular spots that cover sometimes 200 square miles.[/b]

Well, if you are not satisfied with the coverage then you are going to have to pay $$$ for satellite data or WX-WORX. Sorry, there is no such thing as a cheap setup with 24/7 hi-speed downloads when on the move.

Try out the Cingular package, if you are not satisfied, then return it. 30 days will cover most people's chasecations. Again, it is about the best thing out there for the $.

Good luck.
 
Wi-Fi is your absolutaly cheepest way to go . you will have to find a hot spot. They are not hard to find. Much easier that having to stop by a NWS office like in the older days. You can also check in at local libraries. many have internet connections available.
Next I would go with an air card such as the Cingular one mentioned above. I have the Verizon Air card. It was $99 and service is $59/month (two year contract) I get high speed internet with it. (faster than my cable modem at home) I havn't verified how good the coverage is out on the road much.
[/b]

I appreciate the many comments, especially those that say that your best tools are your eyes and radio/phone reports. I agree with that assessment.

I guess the question is since we have many ham operators here, I figured someone would come up with a way (what with all the frequencies at our disposal) to make some type of high-speed connection available over a UHF frequency with minimal equipment. Back in the days of packet radio, we could transfer files at a blazing 9600 bps. But, it wasn't like how we have it today.

Thought I might see some fresh ideas out there for new developments on the radio frequency fronts.
 
WxWorx is actually the more reliable option than cell internet. I think the real issue with these options is what will help you get to the storm in the final hour or two before an intercept.

Threatnet is expensive, has an relatively inferior radar display and limited data products, but it works *everywhere*. Cell internet is cheaper, gets you better radar and more data, but is useless where there is no signal. A lot of Plains chase territory has no cell service, so in essence your cell connection will not be something you can rely on all that much.

Cell data is fine until you're in the middle of nowhere and need a radar update to give you critical last-minute info. ThreatNet's radar may be primitive and smoothed, but the bottom line is that it's *always* there. That justifies the cost and makes it, in my opinion, the better product for a chaser.

You can always have both, but if I had to choose, WXWorx is the better option. If you need pre-chase internet data (SPC outlooks, etc), you always have libraries and WIFI hotspots for that.

About the smoothed radar - it really is not an issue. You might not have enough resolution to see fine featues like a hook, but when you see a huge cell by itself on WxWorx in what you know is a favorable environment, you know you need get to the south side of it! Plus, you have shear markers that tell you exactly where the meso is and give you a g2g shear value. If you see an isolated cell with persistently 2 or more of those shear markers with values greater than 90, more than likely the storm is producing/will soon produce.

Here are some threads on this subject:

http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?...topic=10740&hl=
http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?...10458&hl=wxworx
http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=9719&hl=
http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?...10255&hl=wxworx
http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?...10021&hl=wxworx
http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?...10084&hl=wxworx
http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=9974&hl=
http://www.stormtrack.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=8421&hl=
 
WxWorx is actually the more reliable option than cell internet. [/b]

And really the ONLY reason why you would buy it in my opinion. It looses on all other arguments.

Threatnet is expensive, has an relatively inferior radar display and limited data products, but it works *everywhere*. Cell internet is cheaper, gets you better radar and more data, but is useless where there is no signal. [/b]

Very true. The real problem is you have to decide on what you want:

1. Always available but the data is limited and not the best [WxWorx]

or

2. May not always be available but their are no limits on what you can do if you have access [Cell Phone]

A lot of Plains chase territory has no cell service, so in essence your cell connection will not be something you can rely on all that much.[/b]

I hear a lot of people saying this but I'm not so sure that's as true as it was in the past. We shall see this year as I'll be doing my own real life tests using cell phone, amp and external antenna. I don't think too many people have really tried to get cell data access beyond using the basic phone...but I could be proven wrong. :blink:

-Tyler
 
I guess the question is since we have many ham operators here, I figured someone would come up with a way (what with all the frequencies at our disposal) to make some type of high-speed connection available over a UHF frequency with minimal equipment. Back in the days of packet radio, we could transfer files at a blazing 9600 bps. But, it wasn't like how we have it today.

Thought I might see some fresh ideas out there for new developments on the radio frequency fronts.
[/b]

WiMAX infrastructure is available for 3.3 - 3.5 GHz and the Amateur Radio Service has secondary allocation on that band. Unfortunately it's pricey....AN-100U from Redline base station controller and a 28 dBm transceiver is 15K + antenna. The SU (subscriber units) are about $600 exclusive of antenna. This is with 802.16 - 2004 which is not optimized for mobile operations but would be usuable for high speed data with LOS to the tower up to about 25 miles with directional antennas. You have to add the F/W and border router and a DS-1 for the front end.

I would try this with a DHS grant and maybe link EOC(s) in a city and have the WiMAX backbone for EMCOM operations.

I wrote a grant proposal and the WiMAX portion of it came to about $47K!

You could do 802.11 over amateur frequencies with shorter ranges but you have to exclude non-amateur users with authenication mechanisms if you run over the Part 15 EIRP limits.

Craig
 
I guess the question is since we have many ham operators here, I figured someone would come up with a way (what with all the frequencies at our disposal) to make some type of high-speed connection available over a UHF frequency with minimal equipment. Back in the days of packet radio, we could transfer files at a blazing 9600 bps. But, it wasn't like how we have it today.

Thought I might see some fresh ideas out there for new developments on the radio frequency fronts.
[/b]

There's lot's of ideas Matthew, and the technological barriers are not quite the same as the logistical ones. Who will build the many repeaters/gateways required to cover the plains? Sure, HF can cover a large area, but it's harder to get the same kind of throughput that UHF/microwave could provide. Then there's the matter of convincing many different groups/individuals that one specific standard is the way to go. Sure, it can happen (look at APRS for inspiration) but it takes a lot. We may see something ham-related down the road, but I think any solutions would tend to specialize towards some kind of communication objective rather than to simply provide an internet connection.
 
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