There is no Such Thing as a Free Lunch For Yaesu’s WIRES-X

I recently purchased parts and slapped them on a Raspberry Pi 2 I had lying around to create an MMDVM hotspot for digital ham radio. Using the popular and free software, Pi-Star, this would allegedly be a cheap way to get into all digital platforms – WIRES-X, D-Star, and DMR. However, since I own two Yaesu’s, I’ve concentrated on WIRES-X thus far.

To review, the traditional flow into WIRES-X (or DMR, or D-Star for that matter), goes like this:

ham -> repeater (via radio) -> internet -> WIRES-X server network (or DMR or D-Star) -> repeaters -> local hams (via radio)

As tech-savvy as Seattle is, I really only have three usable WIRES-X repeaters within range around me. Often, at least one of them is offline, or their connection to WIRES-X is offline. After all, it is reliant someone’s internet connection. Repeaters are set up by some generous person or club using their own time and money. Further, since they are open to anyone, I have to share the repeater with others. If I bounce around rooms, I’ll piss off other users and get my call sign banned. The hotspot solution gives me full control of how I want to get on WIRES-X, or so I thought.

The problem is that no one has actually reversed engineered a way into the WIRES-X system. It is a proprietary network who’s only entrance is Yaesu hardware. Even if the technical challenges are solved, there would probably be legal obstacles.

The most efficient way would be:

ham -> hotspot (via radio) -> internet -> WIRES-X server network -> Yaesu repeaters -> local hams (via radio)

Instead, somehow, Yaesu hardware must be inserted as the gatekeeper into WIRES-X. Again, generous people and groups have set this up. There are two platforms that have been created – Yaesu System Fusion (YSF) and Fusion Connect System (FCS). Each platform also has their own rooms, and they try to map to every WIRES-X room. However, the flow is now:

ham -> hotspot (via radio) -> internet -> YSF/FCS -> Yaesu repeater (via radio) -> internet -> WIRES-X server network -> Yaesu repeaters -> local hams (via radio)

First note Yaesu repeater -> internet. This connection is there for all flows. You have no control over this, and it can break. Now go back and note the YSF/FCS -> Yaesu repeater portion. That is a traditional radio broadcast between two internet servers. Think about that.
It’s a server with an antenna attached that sends a radio broadcast to a Yaesu repeater in the same room. There is no Cat5 cable here. Someone somewhere else basically two antennas attached to two servers. You have no control over it. It can also break. Worse, it can be wrong.. These are two critical points that can and often fail, and the initiating ham may not even know they failed.

Why am I berating this? Because in every tutorial or video on the Internet about hotspots, they advertise hotspots as a free way to get onto WIRES-X. This is false. Maybe it’s true for the end user, but the Yaesu repeater is purchased by someone and maintained by someone. The YSF and FCS platforms are paid for and maintained by someone, too. No money is being made by the YSF and FCS networks, and thus, there is no guarantee of accuracy or uptime.

This is not sanctimonious proselytizing that we hotspot users need to be eternally grateful to the YSF and FCS providers, although we should be thankful. The point is that shit breaks and the “it’s so easy” promises by tutorials and YouTubers is wrong.

Pi-Star lists FCS rooms and then YSF rooms. There is no guarantee that the FCS/YSF numbers will be the same the next time you connect. Servers can disappear because a guy is tired of keeping the bridge up, or his rabbit chewed on his cable. Since it’s just an ordinal list of numerical rooms, the lower the WIRES-X mapping on that list, the higher chance that mapping shifts affect that lower mapping. You have to occasionally check.

To map a FCS room to what you enter on your ham radio, list out the FCS rooms list starting with the first server, FCS01 to FCS05. The entry in your radio maps starting at 00010 and increments by one. So, to go to FCS00100, you enter 00010. FCS00100, Deutschland room, is 00020. FCS00290, Texas-Nexus, is 00244, etc. YSF room numbers are just the YSF room number. Several sites talk about a small algorithm you can calculate in your head to get the WIRES-X mapping. Because the bridges are so temporal, this algorithm often doesn’t work, especially for higher level numbers.

There is also no guarantee that the YSF and FCS rooms are correctly mapping to their advertised WIRES-X rooms. That advertisement is just that – a self-reported connection that is not based on anything. It is common for this mapping to go down, but the YSF/FCS portion remains up. FCS has a detailed status page of its servers, but nothing to indicate whether it’s successfully linked to its targeted network. In that case, all the YSF/FCS users are in a room thinking they’re in a WIRES-X room, but they are not. They’re in their own purgatory. You have two rooms, with identical names, existing with each one isolated from each other.

FCS is also limited to 100 mappings of WIRES-X rooms per server. There are five servers in total which means there is a max of 500 WIRES-X room connections. You bet there are more than 500 WIRES-X rooms. That part is theoretically infinite. To make up for it, YSF nodes are one YSF server to one WIRES-X rooms. However, no one person/group maintains all the YSF nodes. Each YSF mapping is at the whim of someone else. There are plenty of WIRES-X rooms that are unreachable by hotspot users.

TL;DR – There is no such thing as a free lunch with digital ham radio. Someone is paying for something, and there is no 100% guarantee of uptime or accuracy. In fact, from a software architecture perspective, the whole thing is held together by chewed gum and rope bridges. Be aware of this when troubleshooting, and don’t for one second think hotspot is a guaranteed way of getting into WIRES-X. Yaesu hardware, either yours or an open repeater, is the only way to fully get into WIRES-X.

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