Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Packet Radio

I have been spending the last week trying to get back on VHF packet radio. While I have been actively using APRS at the 1200 baud level (N1ZZZ-9 for mobile and N1ZZZ-7 for portable), the use of keyboard to keyboard chatting or Bulletin board systems (BBS and personal mailboxes) has been lacking in my radio activities since I lived in Florida.
Here in the Wilkes Barre area, there is a very good APRS network on 144.390, but the only listed packet node is dead and despite my question to the local club board, there seems to be no interest to fix the node, and little interest in the local hams to get involved in an active packet system. This is too bad because there is a lot more to do with packet than shoot out position and weather packets on an open network.
The real tragedy is that without some practice, no one in the area will be able to provide emergency email on the local level since they will have neither the skills nor the infrastructure to move data even within the valley. It would not take much effort to get the main node up and then have attached node to provide both local email through personal mailboxes and even to the greater Internet via an RMS node.
For my own efforts, I have been able to make connections on both 1200 and 9600 baud via a Kantronics 9612 attached to an Alinco DR-135 for one station and my Kenwood TH-7A which is an all-in-one packet station when you have a computer, as the other. The great thing about the Kantronic 9612 and Alinco is that with the right cables, you can have a 2 port packet station (1200 in one, and at least 9600 in the other), with one radio. While with one radio you can only connect through one port at a time, it give the attaching station the option to connect via either speed on the same frequency. Of course you can also monitor two frequencies with separate radios, with one speed each. This is frequently the way it works, with a 1200 baud port on 2 meters and 9600 on 70 cm.
I am currently running XPWare to run the modems. It took me a bit of time to get the settings on the modem set so that it would talk with my computer, but once that was set up, I was off to the races. XPWare is freeware at this point and works with a wide range of TNC's for both packet and HF modes. The program opens two windows with the 9612, one for each port, and a third window when you open the mailbox.
While the Internet is the easy way to do everything that packet can do, and more quickly. Still, being a radio geek, the way to get there is more important than the information transmitted, but also the idea of having a off-grid network is a good idea in the case when the main network goes down.
Once I get set up at home, I want to get an RMS winlink node set up, but I won't have the range to make it effective unless I can convince the local club to get the main node up. This is my next mission.

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