17 April 2018


Speaking of packet radio...

I'm a huge fan of the radio email system called Winlink. If you are something of a 'prepper' or just want to make sure you can get messages out to your loved ones in case of an emergency this application is a must have. In fact, being able to use Winlink is, by itself, justification for getting your Amateur Radio ticket (Technician or General) and buying whatever equipment is necessary to be able to hit a Winlink node. It's that good.

I mostly use HF radio to hit various Winlink nodes around the country. We have two Winlink nodes in my county just south of Atlanta (run by local ARES coordinators), but because they are VHF nodes they are line-of-sight only and hard to hit. In fact, it was easier for me to hit Winlink nodes in Ohio or Indiana via HF than it was to hit these two VHF nodes just 10 miles south of me!

So our local ARES group decided to install a digipeater on a public service tower in the north-central part of the county to see if that improved the overall ability to hit the Winlink nodes. That forced me to resurrect my (very) rusty telnet skills and re-program a donated TNC. After a few tries and some help from other Winlink sysops, success!

The digipeater, in all its glory, just waiting for someone to connect

The antenna for the digipeater sits at the 250' level on the tower and has clear radio line-of-sight to the two Winlink nodes. We're getting reports that the digipeater can be accessed from as far away as mid-town Atlanta all the way down to Thomaston, GA in the central part of the state. Before installing this digipeater I couldn't hit either of the Winlink nodes with a 50 watt mobile radio hooked to an antenna at 40'. Now I can now sit inside my house with a 5 watt handheld radio and TNC and hit either Winlink node with 100% reliability by routing through the digipeater.

Winlink packet interface screen shot. Note the routing 'Via KK4GQ-15' - this is the digipeater ID

Our spring storm/tornado season traditionally starts ramping up in mid-April, so getting this digipeater on-line was critical. We'll see just how much it comes in to play when the bad weather rolls in.

Aaah, the dulcet tones of two packet stations chatting with each other. In this case passing Winlink email traffic via the digipeater

Being able to hit these VHF nodes does not mean I'll abandon using HF for the same purpose. It just gives local Winlink users more options and ensures there's redundancy and depth to a critical piece of communications infrastructure.

So you see, packet radio really isn't dead.

W8BYH out

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