One of the biggest questions I’ve gotten since I did my video on iTAK is: “How do I add my contacts and talk to people?” So, I figured now would be a good time to attempt to answer that question. The simplest answer is that you get a server. As I explained before, TAK runs on your phone but it doesn’t necessarily run like your phone. Unlike other apps, you can’t just add a buddy from your phone’s contact list and start messaging or sharing waypoints or tracking each others’ location. Instead, you both have to be connected to the same server. Connected to a server, all these things are possible. Not connected…well…none of these things are possible within TAK.
So Why Do I Need a Server?
Well, you don’t really. Unless, of course, you want to actually pass data. The need for a server is fairly simple – phones don’t talk directly to each other. None of your messenger apps (or your phone calls) go directly from your phone to the phone you’re trying to reach. Instead, they travel over the network through servers until they reach the intended recipient. The difference between TAK and other apps is that the other apps already have the servers set up. All you have to do it download the app and use the already-running servers. TAK, on the other hand, is more of a do-it-yourself kind of app. To make it run, not only do you and your team need the app, you also need to either set up the server yourself or use a server service. That’s where ArgusTAK comes in.
Overview: What is ArgusTAK?
ArgusTAK is a cloud-based server that allows you to get up and running with minimal investment in server architecture on your end. From their website:
Deploy TAK instantly with simplified user management, increased security & effortless connectivity between ATAK, iTAK & WinTAK devices. Manage it all with our easy to use console that includes automated certificates & federation capabilities.
Their most basic plan starts at $15 a month for 5 “seats,” or a combination of users/devices, and scales up from there. And before anyone loses their minds on me for paying for a server when there are free ones available, I’ll ask you – are the free servers really free? Monetarily, perhaps the software is free. But, when you take into account purchasing hardware and then setting up and maintaining the server, you’re starting to talk about both hardware and labor costs. Now, if you have old hardware lying around and a buddy who’s a server/networking guru, then maybe setting up your own server is a great idea. Also, if you’re building a portable server for a grid-down scenario or have some sort of unique requirements for your server, you may want to build your own.
However, if you are just getting your team into TAK and need a quick and easy way to get up and running and experimenting, ArgusTAK is so much simpler than setting up a server on your own. And even if you need a larger-scale solution, ArgusTAK has options for that as well. With the basic organization package (5 seats @ $3 a seat), you get:
- 10 MB of storage per seat
- Role based access control
- Secure SSL communication
- Device specific certificates
- Upload data packages
- Download data packages
- Video Feed API Support
- Federate networks within your organization
- Federate with other organizations networks
Initial setup is easy – and that’s coming from a guy who regularly screams at his computer for, well, pretty much anything tech related…
First, register for an account. Registration is free and you don’t start paying until you actually set up your network. Work your way through the tabs on the right to set up your organization and network, but remember that doing so will incur billing. Basic billing is $15 per month for 5 “seats.”
One thing I don’t think they do terribly well on the site is explain the concept of seats.
Or I’m just slow.
Either way, a “seat” is a person or a standalone device. Each person or user gets one device. Any additional devices added take up another seat. As you can see in the screen grabs, I have three seats occupied: 1 for me (and my phone), 1 for Dan (and his phone), and 1 for an additional phone I added so I could test iTAK. So I have enough room to add 2 more people or devices before I incur additional charges. I’ll probably end up adding a computer with WinTAK to one of those seats for future testing.
Setting up on the server end is fairly easy. You’re essentially just following prompts to create a network and add people/devices. Setting up the devices is slightly harder. This is actually one area where I find iTAK has a slight advantage over ATAK.
For Both Versions
You will need to download the server package from ArgusTAK. In the screenshot below, you can see that each seat has a line with multiple server packages, including one for Android and one for iPhone. Within this package are the certificates your device needs to communicate securely with the server. They download as zip files.
For the iPhone
Save the zip file to your iPhone. Within iTAK, go to the Settings button in the upper right corner, choose Network, then choose Servers.
Go down to the “+” in the lower right corner, then choose Upload Server Package. Navigate to the zip file you saved and select it. iTAK will do the rest.
Extract the files and save the Client.p12 and Cert-Auth.p12 files to your phone. What happens next can vary based on your version. For the version I’m running (220.127.116.11), go to the upper right hand corner and select the Menu button. Scroll to the bottom and select Settings, then Network Connections, then Network Connections again.
Choose Manage Server Connections, then choose the three dots in the upper right corner and choose Add.
Input the name of your server and the address (argustak.com), then select Advanced Options. Set Streaming Protocol to SSL, and change the Server Port to the port specified on ArgusTAK’s website.
Unselect Use default SSL/TLS Certificate, then click Import Trust Store. Select the Cert-Auth.p12 file from wherever you saved it and enter the ArgusTAK password from the site. Next click Import Client Certificate and select the Client.p12 file. Enter the password that can be found under your user line (the same place you downloaded the server package) on the website, then click OK. It should take you back one screen and the network should show green.
ArgusTAK also has a quick reference page on their website:
Hopefully this was enough explanation to get you up and running on ArgusTAK. If not, and you’re running into a technical issue, contact their customer support at firstname.lastname@example.org. They’re great to work with and seriously friendly.
As you’re moving forward, you may choose to get your own server up and running. That’s probably a good thing, honestly. But if you need to get up and running today, ArgusTAK can get you there.
We’ll continue testing ArgusTAK, specifically sending data packages and working communications with it, as we continue with the series, but it was important to me to get the intro and setup out there so that you can also do your own testing and we can learn together.
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