Packet Radio Is:
Communications between computers using radio (RF) as the medium rather than wires or solid mediums. Your personal computer in your ham shack coupled to your VHF or UHF transceiver via a terminal node controller (TNC) is the makeup of the Packet Radio station. There are now programs available to use the soundcard in your computer in lieu of an outboard TNC.
Packet Radio is a product of the computer age, and as a result, Packet Radio has computer-age features that provide a very efficient means of Communication. Packet Radio provides error-free communications. With Packet Radio, no time is wasted trying to decipher communications that contain "hits' or "misses" caused by electrical interference or changes in propagation. The receiving station receives information exactly as it is sent by the transmitting station.
Packet is communications between people either director indirect. You can work keyboard to keyboard or use electronic mailboxes to leave messages. Due to error checking by the TNC, all of it is error free, too. As the data is received it is continuously checked for errors, and isn't accepted unless it is correct. You don't miss the information if it has errors because the information is resent again.
The data that is to be transmitted is collected by the TNC and sent in bursts, or packets, of information; hence the name. Each packet has the callsign or address of who it's going to, who it's coming from and the route between the two stations included, along with the data and error checking. Since up to 256 characters can be included in each packet, more than three lines of text can be sent in a matter of a couple of seconds. There is plenty of time between packets for several stations to be using the same frequency at the same time.
Amateur packet radio began in Montreal, Canada in 1978, the first transmission occurring on May 31st. This was followed by the Vancouver Amateur Digital Communication Group (VADCG) development of a Terminal Node Controller (TNC) in 1980. Amateur packet radio was legalized by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) March 17, 1980. Back in the early 80's packet was new, exciting and something completely different from anything else in amateur radio. This excitement caught the imagination of an exploding number of amateurs keen to be involved with this technology. Packet Radio continued to grow until the internet seemed to take its toll and users started to decline and it was used less and less.
Packet Radio is gaining resurgence as a very viable means for emergency communications. New programs enabling email by amateur radio and other message programs are gaining popularity among emergency communications units. The Department of Homeland Security, The Federal Government along with State and Local entities are becoming very interested in this form of communications to supplement emergency communications in disasters.
Some of the programs in use are:
Winlink 2000 (WL2K) - is a worldwide system of volunteer resources supporting e-mail by radio, with non-commercial links to internet e-mail. These resources come from Amateur Radio, the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS), and other volunteer organizations. The system provides valuable service to emergency communicators, and to licensed radio operators without access to the internet. The all-volunteer Winlink Development Team (WDT) is committed to continuous improvement using modern computer and networking technology with the most efficient and effective radio modes and digital protocols for local, regional and long-distance applications.
To use the Winlink 2000 system, you must hold an Amateur Radio license or be a member of a supported organization or agency. Use of the system and all software is free of charge for those who qualify.
RMS Express - This is the preferred Winlink 2000 (WL2K) radio email client. It is in active development by the Winlink Development Team and is well-supported. RMS Express is designed to be most easily used by single users with a single call sign but it may be used to access one or two preset tactical addresses or alternate callsigns. RMS Express supports a wide selection of TNCs and multimode controllers, the new sound card mode WINMOR, as well as support for HF Pactor, SCS Robust Packet, VHF/UHF packet and direct telnet to WL2K CMS servers (for amateur radio High Speed Multimedia [HSMM], D-Star DD mode, or internet).
RMS Express is built for use with the Winlink 2000 system and leverages its features with simplicity as the prime design objective. It uses the B2F protocol that supports attachments, multiple addresses and tactical addresses. With the WINMOR mode RMS Express may be used peer-to-peer (connecting directly via RF to other RMS Express clients). RMS Express also contains manual and automated GPS position reporting abilities, support for the Winlink catalog of downloadable weather, information and help bulletins, Saildocs and Globalmarinenet for obtaining GRIB files, and a propagation prediction program to determine which of the participating Winlink RMS gateway stations you can connect with from anywhere on earth.
RMS Express may be used as a user client for emergency communications.
System Requirements: 32 or 64 bit Windows OS (Windows XP, Windows Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 2003 Server), or under Windows on the Mac using a VM engine or dual boot arrangement. Windows XP systems require Microsoft .NET v3.5 runtime installed. There are minimal CPU demands with the exception of WINMOR operation. The heavy DSP demands of WINMOR require a computer of at least 700 MHz Pentium/Celeron class and at least 512 Meg of memory. If multiple applications are running concurrently a faster computer and more RAM may be required.
Please go to the Winlink FTP site to download the latest version of the program. Minor version updates are handled by the software's auto-update mechanism.
For those of us living in outer areas, and cannot connect to K7YCA-10 directly, here are the instructions on connecting with RMS Express through Mt. Union. K7YCA-10 through K7YCA-5 on Mt. Union.
AIRMAIL - This is a User program, used to enable radio email, either on HF, or on VHF/UHF. On VHF/UHF it would access a Winlink Gateway which would have RMS Packet software installed and running. ARES/RACES maintains an RMS (Radio Message Server Gateway) K7YCA-10 at the Prescott City Hall EOC location (this thanks to Bud, N7CW).
The hardware required for use with AirMail on VHF/UHF is any packet TNC or Sound Card. Sounds Cards and many TNC’s require the additional installation of the “AMPE” and “AGW Packet Engine” software.
AirMail can be used to exchange messages with another ham station, which is also using AirMail, without using the internet. This is called “peer-to-peer”. AirMail also handles Attachments.
AirMail can also be configured to access the Winlink 2000 system directly, without using a radio, by using a “telnet” (Internet Access) connection.
AirMail uses a “handshaking” protocol, which results in a very fast and automatic transfer of emails to be Sent and Received, after being composed offline. The minimum operating system is Windows 95. AirMail software is free.
For those of us living in outer areas, and cannot connect to K7YCA-10 directly, here are the instructions on connecting with Airmail through Mt. Union. K7YCA-10 through K7YCA-5 on Mt. Union.
OUTPOST - is a Windows-based packet message client that lets you send and receive packet messages with almost any Amateur Radio Bulletin Board System (BBS) or TNC Personal Mail Box.
Outpost was designed for the ARES/RACES packet user community. The thinking behind it was to create an intuitive, easy-to-use program that lets ARES/RACES organizations focus on the "message," not the "medium," as they pass digital message traffic to and from an Operational Area BBS.
Outpost has a similar look and feel to other contemporary mail clients. It features Windows-driven forms and screens that handle creating, sending, receiving, storing, and printing packet messages from your PC. It also can run automatically where it periodically checks for out-going and in-coming messages.
Outpost does not yet support any packet message forwarding protocol or SMTP. Instead, it interprets the information sent from the TNC and BBS, then generates the TNC and BBS commands needed to send, list, and retrieve messages from the BBS. It essentially automates the keyboard entry and interpretation performed by the user.
Outpost uses BBSs and PBBSs as mail drops where a user can leave a packet message for someone without the other person needing to be on line at that point in time. Support for many BBS and PBBSs has been built into Outpost with new ones being added as they are identified.
WINMOR - The WINMOR protocol was introduced at the 2008 ARRL/TAPR Digital Communications Conference in Chicago. The goal of the WINMOR development effort was to create a soundcard digital mode that would provide an alternative to PACTOR for accessing the Winlink 2000 network. After two years of beta testing, WINMOR TNC, a software-based “helper application”, is now available as part of the new Winlink RMS Express user software suite.
For a number of years hams who’ve accessed the Winlink network on the HF bands have used PACTOR, primarily PACTOR II or III. This required the purchase of an external hardware modem. With the advent of WINMOR, no external hardware is required other than the same type of interface used for other sound-card-based digital communication modes.
This is a sampling of developments taking place in the digital communications area. Each has it’s use in Emergency Communications with some being more than others.
We know there are several ARES/RACES members out there with a packet TNC sitting on a shelf collecting dust or packed away in a box in the garage or storage room. It is time to haul them out, hook them up and put them back into service. ARES/RACES currently has two packet nodes in operation on Mt. Union and as soon as some hurdles can be overcome we are looking to have one on Mingus Mountain. If enough interest in packet operation can be sparked we would like to see an ARES/RACES Digital Net in operation. It would be a good form of training for emergency communications.
Some of the packet nodes in service and call signs used are:
UNION K7YCA-5 145.010 MHz
K7YCA-10 145.010 RMS Packet Gateway Station in Prescott
Other nodes and RMS locations in the area:
ELDEN W7MOT-8 145.010 (located on Mt. Elden near Flagstaff)
W7LUX-10 145.010 RMS Packet Gateway Station in Flagstaff
WHTNKS W7MOT-6 145.710 MHz (located on White Tanks West of Phoenix)
NØDAJ-10 145.710 RMS Packet Gateway Station located in Congress (September thru May)
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