As always, opinions in this post are solely those of my own, and not necessarily those of any organization I am currently affiliated with or have been in the past.

First Posted 1/17/2021

It’s been a few weeks since Mrs. KD9CPB got me the DMR radio of my dreams for Christmas, and naturally I bought the cheapest possible eBay MMDVM hotspot to fuel my new joy of digital ham radio without tying up the local DMR repeater. It’s in my DNA not to read instruction manuals and dive straight into tinkering with “Internet of Things” stuff like this, and originally I wasn’t going to bother doing a post about setting up Pi-Star to work with Brandmeister because there’s already a bazillion other how-to videos out there. However, most of the how-to videos on setting up cheap eBay Pi-Star DMR hotspots do not cover getting the Hotspot Security Settings correct, and it’s not obvious that you might need a firmware update to fix this. So if you just bought one of these Raspberry Pi Zero W based hotspots fully assembled, you might want to watch the video below and keep the following road bumps in mind:

Bump #1: Turn it off and turn it back on again after setting the WiFi password

I was debating not even putting this into the post, but I think it’s important to start with the fact that after you set the wifi SSID and password, you need to physically remove power from the Pi-Star then plug it back in, otherwise you’re stuck on the default setup network. It looks & feels like the Pi-Star will try to connect automatically after you click on “Save (and connect)”, but you’ll actually need to power cycle first. I only wasted a few minutes due to this, but I could see someone not realizing a power cycle is required, wasting much more time. Hopefully nobody reading this will waste a minute longer than necessary!

Bump #2: You need to get the Brandmeister API key squared away early

The above video doesn’t cover this, but you’ll want to do the steps at http://wiki.pistar.uk/PI-Star_integration_with_BrandMeister_API to get Brandmeister integration to do its thing. It feels like Brandmeister is becoming the most popular DMR system by a large margin, so for now I’m only setting up my Pi-Star with the Brandmeister 3102 Master as it appears to be the closest one to my location. Let me know in the comments if you have a strong opinion on this matter, seems like things can move quickly between DMR+, TGIF, DMR-MARC and Brandmeister!

Bump #3: You should really update your Pi-Star version first, but it might fail with factory clock settings!

Long story short, the Dec 2020 BM security change requires you to set a password in your Pi-Star that matches the password in your Brandmeister profile (it’s under the Self-care menu). However, there is a good chance your cheapo hotspot has a very old Pi-Star software release on it that needs to be upgraded so you can easily enter this password. Fortunately, it’s super easy to update Pi-Star by clicking on the Configuration menu on the dashboard, then select Update at the top of the screen. You should then see some cool console output, and if everything went well, the dashboard version in the upper left corner should update to something very recent (as of this writing it’s Pi-Star:3.4.17 / Dashboard: 20210111, but it will probably be something even newer soon).

When I tried this, I got the following certificate error when Pi-Star attempted to download the latest version:

Updating DV Binaries...
fatal: unable to access 'https://github.com/AndyTaylorTweet/Pi-Star_Binaries.git/': server certificate verification failed. CAfile: /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt CRLfile: none
Done
Updating Pi-Star Binaries...
fatal: unable to access 'https://github.com/AndyTaylorTweet/Pi-Star_Binaries_sbin.git/': server certificate verification failed. CAfile: /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt CRLfile: none
Done
Updating Hostfiles...
Done
Updating Dashboard...
fatal: unable to access 'https://github.com/AndyTaylorTweet/Pi-Star_DV_Dash.git/': server certificate verification failed. CAfile: /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt CRLfile: none
Done

This is because you might need to set the clock in order to do the upgrade! I won’t go into much detail as to why that is, but it boils down to your Pi-Star won’t accept the update from a webserver in 2021 if the Pi-Star has a factory default date in 2019 configured. Luckily, this is a super easy fix:

Head over to the Pi-Star dashboard, click Configuration, select Expert, and SSH Access. Login with the same factory default login you used to get into the webpage (username pi-star password raspberry), then type in the command sudo date -s “17 JAN 2021 16:00:00”, obviously filling in the day & time with whenever you’re doing this yourself:

After you’ve set the time, you should be able to retry the update, and conquer the next bump of setting that hotspot security password.

Bump #4: Set the hotspot security password, test with the Parrot group

Once you have that recent version of Pi-Star installed, follow those instructions at https://news.brandmeister.network/configure-a-security-password-for-your-hotspots/, and you should be good to go!

The Parrot group in DMR is one of my favorite things about digital radio. I’m not going to talk about it too much here as there’s plenty of great articles about it, but the first thing you should do after getting all these road bumps ironed out is testing with the Parrot channel. If that looks good, go ahead and try your favorite DMR talk group with the hotspot. The dashboard is your friend when it comes to seeing who’s out there!

Now you might notice the time is March 7th at 5am, and I’m writing this on Jan 17?!? It feels like my Pi-Star doesn’t like to get the proper time and date for now, but that’s fine, as long as it’s somewhat close when the software updates happen, I won’t be losing sleep over it. Well that’s enough writing for now, normally I’d say something like “let me know what you think in the comments”, but I’d rather hear from you on TAC 310 instead πŸ™‚ Happy DMRing!

Cheap eBay Pi-star DMR Hotspot Setup road bumps in 2021

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