Apr 112019

Lately, I had a need for a library that would talk to a KISS TNC and allow me to exchange UI frames over an AX.25 network.

This is part of a project being undertaken by Brisbane Area WICEN Group. We’ve been tasked with the job of reporting scans from RFID tag readers back to baseā€¦ and naturally we’ll be using the AX.25 network we’re already familiar with. The plan is to use APRS messaging (to keep things simple) to submit the location, time and hardware address of each RFID read.

For this, I needed something I also need for this project, a tool to encode and decode the UI frames. I had initially thought of just using LinBPQ or similar to provide the interface to AX.25, but in the end, it was easier for me to write my own simple AX.25 stack from scratch.

aioax25 obviously is nowhere near a replacement for other AX.25 stacks in that it only encodes and decodes frames, but it’s a first step in that journey. This library is written for Python 3.4 and up using the asyncio module and pyserial. At the moment I have used it to somewhat crudely send and receive APRS messages, and so with a bit of work, it’ll suffice for the WICEN project.

That does mean I’m not shackled in terms of what bits I can set in my AX.25 headers. One limitation I have with my mapping of 6LoWHAM addresses to AX.25 addresses is that I cannot represent all characters or the “group” bit.

This lead to the limitation that if I defined a group called VK4BWI-0, that group may not have a participant with the call-sign of VK4BWI-0 because I would not be able to differentiate group messages from direct messages.

By writing my own AX.25 stack, I potentially can side-step that limitation: I can utilise the reserved bits in a call-sign/SSID to represent this information. I avoided their use before because the interfaces I planned on using did not expose them, but doing it myself means they’re directly accessible. The AX.25 protocol documentation states:

The bits marked “r” are reserved bits. They may be used in an agreed-upon manner in individual networks. When not implemented, they should be set to one.


Now, the question is, if I set one to 0, would it reach the far end as a 0? If so, this could be a stand-in for the group bit — stored inverted so that a 1 represents a unicast destination and 0 represents a group.

The other option is to just prepend the left-over bits to the start of the message payload. This has the bonus that I can encode the full-callsign even if that call-sign does not fit in a standard AX.25 message.

So a message sent to VK4FACE-6 (let’s pretend F-calls can use packet for the sake of an example) would be sent to AX.25 SSID VK4FAC-6, and the first few bytes would encode the missing E and the group/unicast bit. If the station VK4FAC were also on frequency, the software stack at their end would need to filter based on those initial payload bytes.

We support 8-character call-signs, so we need to represent 2 left-over characters plus a group bit. Add space for two-more characters for the source call-sign (which may not be a group), we require about 3 bytes.

At this point we might as well use 4, store the extra bytes as 7-bit ASCII, with the spare MSBs of each byte encoding the group bit and one spare bit. An extra 8 bits is bugger all really even at 1200 baud.

Obviously, NET/ROM has no knowledge of this. Stations that are on the other side of a non-6LoWHAM digipeater need to explicitly source-route their hops to reach the rest of a mesh network, and the nodes the other side need to “remember” this source route.

This latter scheme also won’t work for connected mode, as there’s no scope to shoehorn those bytes in the information field and still remain AX.25 compatible — it will only work for 6LoWHAM UI frames.

Anyway, it’s food for thought.