Are digital modes practical for prepping?

Started by gil, September 09, 2012, 01:19:29 pm

Previous topic - Next topic


I used to think that CW was the only practical data mode for preppers. I still think it is the most important one. There might be a place however for data modes in emergency situations. I am thinking of news bulletins and passing messages. ConfederateColonel got me thinking about this.. Some modes like Olivia can decode a message buried deep in the noise. You can't even hear anything but static, but the data comes through. These modes are amazing in that regard. With the abundance of sub-$300 laptops and the simplicity of connecting them to your radio via the earphone/microphone jacks, why not give it a try? A news bulletin can be typed, then cut-and-pasted into a program like fldigi. Some software will allow you to set your radio as a beacon and transmit the message at regular intervals. Even at QRP power, it will eventually go through... The biggest issue with digital modes is to agree on a standard. After reading about practically all of them, my vote goes to Olivia. I have yet to experiment though, so let's discuss possible modes and setups to achieve a practical solution.

Radio Preppers I hope will eventually end-up on the air. We won't call it that of course, it will just be another friendly net.. We could then practice voice, CW, and one data mode for our purpose. The main band will probably be 40m because some of it is accessible by all license levels and propagation works even in low solar activity. NVIS is possible as well for local contacts. 40m is the most versatile band in my opinion. The General exam is fairly easy..

For prepping purposes, I don't think it is a good thing to spread out to many bands and modes (except on receive). Having just a few "watering holes" would make it easier to find "like-minded" individuals, people who read this forum. Note that the goal here is not to form some kind of militia group. It is to exchange information on developing events between somewhat trusted individuals with whom we may have had prior contact and maybe even developed a friendship with.

So, do we need digital modes?



I think when the use of digital modes can be matured to the use of a smartphone and a transceiver with just a bluetooth (or other wireless) connection between them they will be perfect for preppers. There will be no shortage of smartphones post disaster and they are easier to recharge with solar power.

It would also take less room in my pack!


This is similar to what step one would look like!

It's an interesting read if nothing else at the moment!

I still don't have a good idea how to wirelessly get audio from the phone to the radio without having the radio hooked up to a computer. Maybe one of those microminiature computers on a board could be a compromise. I don't think the Rasberry Pi has onboard sound... I'll have to go look again.


The problem with using digital modes in this sort of situation is the complexity of doing so, the required equipment for producing the particular mode.  If you can produce that digital mode, and if the other recipient can decode that mode, then it could certainly be of benefit.  I think you can see where that could become a problem though, right?  It depends on the resources available.
The 'KISS' principal is a nice way of doing things.  The 'simpler' it is the more likely it will be possible to do in adverse conditions for a greater number of people.  ('Smoke signals' would work, IF you can start a fire.  That sort of thingy.)
- Paul


Given the original question some thought over past few days as I investigate a couple things in this area. I was originally with gil, in that if someone said digital mode to me I'd have asked "paddle or straight key?"

Most of us don't have unlimited time or resources. When I think of preparation I have to think of "as a contingency to...what?" So some prioritization of effort has to take place. The reason I have decided to investigate digital modes, in particular being able to link into email using HF, is because there may come a time when I might want to do that, for a variety of reasons.

It could be a Divine/natural event, e.g., the mother of all winter storms that hovers in place, or EMP a la Hollywood. (George Clooney will be in it for sure.)
It  could be a man-made event, e.g., the proverbial blue-helmets are rolling down the interstate and have crossed the state border and Big Sis is controlling the media story.
It could be a combination of both, to wit: The Cubs win the World Series. ("It might be, it could be...")

Either way it could be that I need to convey some larger amount of information to an outside entity, even OCONUS, who may not have radio skills, but whose influence I need to bring to bear to effect some outcome in my favor.
I might want to get some ground-truth out to a non-operator about conditions as a result of this natural event.
I might want to get some ground-truth out to a sympathetic country who may exert or rally political influence against a domestic oppressor OR to an off-shore floating broadcast station who can get the real story out.

Not being able to define every possible calamity that might occur is OK in my book. We just need to be reasonable and put our learning efforts where they're most likely to do the most good. For me preparation without knowing specifically what the influence is means I take a multi-faceted approach to things. The fact is I might not bugout (or be able to), although I could.  I might not have to haul a bunch of stuff; although it's quite possible, at least 50:50,  I'll have to power all or some of it myself. I could still haul it if needed; there's a proper size Pelican case down in the basement as well as a modest backpack that would do the trick. But staying at the base location is not to be dismissed either.

Hence, I'm at least going to explore a digital mode to learn about it & make part of the toolkit. Judgement is reserved, I'm not championing anything. It really doesn't cost much I've discovered since the software is free and the physical interface needed is ~$110. The investment is my time to learn it really.

So more to follow. But, as to the thread's original question, it's worth exploring for me.
My $.02 adjusted for the Drachma


This question is a bit off topic, but here it is...

For prepping purposes, do HAM operators concern themselves with faraday cages and protection from EMP or other shocks to their equipment? How vulnerable is cw/paddels? Thanks.

The idea of digital modes made me think hi-tech, hence more risk to the equipt getting hurt real bad.

White Tiger

I like the question Sunflower - had the same thought about a faraday box...seems like a filing cabinet would work just fine (but what do I know)...

I know where to get some metal carrying cases that could be adapted to use as faraday cages!?
If you're looking for me, you're probably looking in the wrong place.



An EMP for me is a major concern, just because it can occur naturally, and it has (big one in 1859). Anything that has transistors or integrated circuits in it would fry. That means pretty much every electronic device in use today, including computers. So, there isn't just radios to be protected. Having one of those cheap laptops ($300) in a Faraday bag/box would be a good idea. Make sure all the software you might need is on it. I don't have a spare, but I did pack-up a solar powered scientific calculator. Regular electric devices like say a simple toaster, soldering iron, vacuum cleaner, etc. and yes, paddles, would not be affected. Tube radios actually might be fine.

Digital modes since they require a computer, are more complex and might not be practical in an all-out catastrophe. Another problem is their number. There are just too many. If there was a national consensus among preppers to adopt a certain mode, then maybe, but I don't see that happening (no harm in trying though). I would favor Olivia for it's ability to work with weak signals. CW, SSB and FM would be the main modes to use for sure, and of course, I want to promote CW. Most CW radios have message memories so that you can record one and have it transmitted every-so-often, automatically. With headphones, they can be operated silently... Blah blah blah, I could go on...

I will personally try digital modes, get a Signalink box and play with it a bit. Then I'll probably put the interface in a Faraday box with an El-cheapo laptop and forget about it. Anyway, there is such a thing as too much gear. You want backups, but when things start to pile-up, it's time to stop buying more crap. There are other areas of prepping to be considered, and radio, while close to the top, is not number one. For me, digital modes are an "extra." Meaning that if I'm bugging out, the stuff stays behind...



A Carrington-magnitude event would be notable, no question. I have to prioritize, again reverting to character. When doing a risk assessment I have to look at both severity as well as likelihood. Unlimited re$ource$? The world's your oyster. Not here.

In terms of a hostile-induced event, from a nation-state that actually had the capability & willingness to do that, there would be no notice. So my solution would need to be a completely sealed on-shelf mirror of my basic requirements, untouched. Then something else for in-service use & training. At that point it's also more likely that I have other priorities beyond radio. Such a redundant setup, however, would absolutely include solar for the (never used, just rotated) gel-cells because such an event will draw down fuel supplies very quickly and then the generators go quiet.

A presidential (and DoD budget funded) commission chartered back in 2001 has produced 2 (two) reports, one in 2004, another in 2008.
(The big one is just a high-res dupe of the '08 report)
I think they may now be partially funded by DHS dollars as well, who now has their hand in the critical infrastructure pie. This does make for some lucrative niche markets. The Big Bear during the Cold War made for the same thing.

Don't get me wrong, not dismissing the severity at all. Just not in a position to subvert finite resources from other things.


Email with digital modes?

What's available?  Is there one very commonly used mode and software, or is there so little standardization that it isn't very useful?  In a moderate SHTF situation that only covers a reigon, like the North East USA, being able to send messages "directly" to people outside the affected area with emails would be a great way to communicate.

Don't the MARS people use something like email?


I still run a bulletin board system (BBS). The ones before the internet was around.  I know the tnc's have that capability built in but I'm current looking at a software package that not only does the traditional telnet / web stuff but can also be hooked up for hams to connect to.  I'm seriously considering this but my problem is not only the tnc but that radio for such.

Digital mode can be expensive even if you go the eBay route etc.  I would love to experiment with this side of the hobby but unless you already have the equip. It's expensive just to play.

I would take suggestions though on how to do it fairly inexpensively.



I don't think you need more than a $120 interface...



Quote from: cockpitbob on October 10, 2012, 03:49:41 pm
Email with digital modes?

What's available?  Is there one very commonly used mode and software, or is there so little standardization that it isn't very useful?  In a moderate SHTF situation that only covers a reigon, like the North East USA, being able to send messages "directly" to people outside the affected area with emails would be a great way to communicate.

Don't the MARS people use something like email?
Last first, yes. (MARS freqs aren't within the amateur bands.)

As to the rest, my initial checking had me interested when I discovered that it really doesn't take much.
Alot of ships & other marine entities apparently use a 2nd or 3rd generation service called PACTOR, which is spendy. However, there's a similar service for amateurs (but not quite as robust) is WINMOR (WINlink Message Over Radio). For amateurs BY amateurs. The software (most seem to use RMSExpress) is free. The following link will go to the page and display their messaging gateway HF stations that are active:

You can see there are more than a few. The menu across the top also has some info about WINMOR software. Several free basic tutorials/overviews on WINMOR and RMSExpress are on the searchable on the net.

Propagation from where you are will sorta dictate band and distance to make the best connection. So the s/w is free, the interface box isn't much, and the case of the Signalink USB is pretty compatible to almost any computer & radio & comes with the cables necessary. (Mine should be here next week.) I'll reserve judgment yet on how it performs.

One thing: While an internet connection isn't necessarily required, the s/w will use it to run current propagation to help the software if you have it. Otherwise, there are provisions to put in some best estimates about propagation.

Given that my old radio based (versus some type of high-speed fixed link) "email" was typing on a TTY to produce a paper tape with holes in it, then getting it read in to be sent over an HF link, this is likely to be better. You can also just do key pounding with someone if you want, been there done that a long time ago. But the concept of an HF-based email-like substance is intriguing to me.

Judgment is in hold mode pending validation of the mission I have in mind. I think there are a few on here (at least two) who can certainly speak to this with a heck-uva lot more authority than me. We'll see; more to follow. Intrigued anyway, glass half-full.


KC9THN, thanks for the great reply.  Right now I'm adding CW and QRP to my ham repertoire, but I think digital modes will be right after that.  Perhaps if it's a long nasty winter.  I'm really intreigued by the idea of email over HF for moderate SHTF where only my reigon's systems are down.  Even if it is only one-way, outbound from me.  At least I would be able to tell my family that we are doing OK, the food, water and booze are holding out but the hookers are getting tired. ;D