E-Mail Over Radio for Preppers

Started by RadioRay, October 28, 2013, 01:26:13 am

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October 28, 2013, 01:26:13 am Last Edit: October 28, 2013, 05:53:30 pm by RadioRay
I had written this as part of a long winded (just my style ... ) hijacking of a thread about something else entirely.  So - what the heck - let's just plop it into the correct venue and see if a discussion develops.

--- Ray
(Able to type faster than the speed of thought!)

---- Original Post Follows ----

Form fits function.

One of the most exasperating things I see from "preppers" when they write about 'ham radio' is that they are virtually always discussing HandiTalkies.  HT's are - welllll, "handy". but frankly there is little difference between a 2 meter HT and a MURS HT (though ham HT's are usually good scanners).  Both are mid-VHF , FM HT's.  It's often missed that we hams have many different tools for different tasks. I like the layered approach.

For baseline, high reliability and low cost of entry and sustaining, there is nothing like CW QRP and etc. This works very well for both high mobility scenarios, when a person might have to be on the move (a BAD situation, BTW) or from home.  The next layer is more of a 'social layer' and is found in the various HF SSB voice nets which are on the air right now and the general conversation with hams from your area and also distant regions.  Whether for strictly listening or for interaction, I've found voice comms handy when getting local area reporting about an event, as opposed to wha tthe controlled media will tell you.  However, the information is only as good as the source - or less...

The next layer up is one I prefer to just jump directly to, and that is the HF e-mail over radio.  If you are in the situation where you can keep a laptop alive and have a rig capable of running sound card modes, you are entirely able to participate in e-mail over radio. There are tremendous advantages to this in convenience, because you may not be able to meet at the same time and same frequency every day.  Secondly, because it's true e-mail you can link with both hams and non-hams, if the internet is operating outside of your impacted area.  If the internet is down universally, then you can either send/receive your message traffic automatically through a digital 'mailbox' or directly with the station your choose to communicate with.  Naturally, because the two prime e-mail over radio modes are full error correcting modes, there are NO GARBLES, you know when a message is delivered, you can send ANY digital file which you can currently send over internet, including pictures, .doc files and etc.  That can be handy. An e-mail over radio system allows you to send/receive your radio traffic when it's convenient for YOU.  The #1 killer of skeds and nets is people not getting on the air at the right times/freqs and the propagation not being good for everyone in the net.

>>>  If you want to do more than point-to-point communication with a few people, then the e-mail over radio is a superb solution (WINMOR is FREEware) >> if << you are able to make use of both a radio transceiver capable of HF sound card modes AND keep a laptop alive. That last part can be very difficult on the run, but  not so tough from a stable location.

All this being said, you do, Do, DO want to keep your 'baseline communication' operational.  If the computer dies, if it locks-up due to stray RF from a quick-up antenna and etc. you'll want to be able to reach for the key and continue to communicate.  It's also a matter of how much message traffic you are going to be NEEDING to exchange.  If you're like Gil and I in our CW skeds, with conversation and the occasional SMS LIKE short message being passed, then CW will absolutely support that and a lot more, allowing the tiny QRP rigs to be your easily maintained baseline.  If on the other hand, the goal is to relay news and information (intelligence) verbatim, to several stations and to do it efficiently, then the e-mail over radio can send those bulletins for you auto-magically when your network stations check-in.  This works - it's been going on for decades on the HF bands.

In short - use what works but ALWAYS keep a last ditch (base line) communications method that requires very little in the way of energy budget and etc. so that you can communicate enough to keep in touch with those you must and also to have the occasional chat one the air with others as you see fit.  Radio communication is a powerful tool - the fact that we enjoy it as a 'hobby' is simple icing on the cake.

73 de RadioRay ..._ ._
"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


October 28, 2013, 02:22:33 pm #1 Last Edit: January 24, 2014, 04:06:48 am by RadioRay
As most of you here already know, I'm a HUGE fan of the prepper-friendly digital networks.

It works EVERY day, without question, and allows me to send (and receive) absolutely error-free, COMSEC/OPSEC enabled messages to fellow preppers all over the country.

I use other digital nets on HF as well, notably the NTS(D) pactor nodes and the Winmor/Winlink network which is worldwide.

Personally, I find it interesting that mariners, full-time RVers and others without internet (or commercial power) access have been doing radio email for some years now.  And I wish I knew about Winlink back when I was a full-time RVer.

The other thing about these networks that strikes me as being very applicable to our mutual efforts is that we can (and do) accept messages from third parties, all over the globe.  We never have to worry about the nosy neighbors, the press, or even less-than-friendly 'other folks' who might otherwise prove to be a problem when SHTF / TEOTWAWKI situations present themselves.

Like Ray, I tend to go there first.  It's just wonderfully functional, and eminently useful to our like-minded group.


Luck, WA4STO


While the Internet connection is very handy, I consider the peer-to-peer capability to be one of the key features of a system.  It is not difficult to maintain a regional NVIS network with friends using a battery-friendly Windows netbook or laptop, battery and a small solar panel.  I maintained regular contact with one friend for several years who ran his system solely on batteries charged by a small solar system.  Solar is more difficult for me because of site conditions, but I have portable panels to set up for temporary use.



Well Wally -

You live in Washington State - instead of solar power, might I suggest diverting the rain gutter down spout over a water wheel for ALL the power you'll ever need!  At least if you were nearer Puget Sound, it would work, with all of their constant rain.   ha ha

de RadioRay ..._ ._

"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


Quote from: RadioRay on October 28, 2013, 05:58:14 pmmight I suggest diverting the rain gutter down spout over a water wheel for ALL the power you'll ever need!

I did consider building a little wood-fired steam engine, like the ones they use in the little boats on the Puget Sound - except theirs are propane I believe.  By the time I ran out of wood for fuel my solar access problems should be solved... but, I put that idea on the back burner (so to speak) because of safety issues.  Actually I do have an area that gets decent solar exposure (when there is any sun to be exposed to) but it is a little far from the shack for direct connection.  I have some portable panels and I could move batteries back and forth, but that would be a nuisance. 

Because the quality of gasoline is constantly going downhill and storage life is getting shorter, I'm thinking about converting the generators to propane and upping the propane storage.  The main reason is to run the well pump long enough to fill our large water storage tank every week or so, but that's also a good time to run battery chargers.



PROPANE generator is on my list too.

1.  No gas lines to wait in. 

2.  Large amounts of propane are stored in my region.

3.  People don't immediately run to form long lines at propane tanks when a hurricane is on the way or the EBT card stops working.

4.  I have medium term storage (several months) at my house , enough to pump water for a very long time as long as I limit it to 'as needed' filing the pressure tank/gravity tank.

4.1  My only use for our propane here now is back-up heat during winter.  Summer, there is no use for it, so I turn the valves off.

5.  Can buy extra life for the freezer food, so that I don't have to eat 10 gallons of Hagen Daas ice cream in 12 hours . . .    ;D

73 de RadioRay ..._ ._

"When we cannot do the good we would, we must be ready to do the good we can."  ~ Matthew Henry


Ray's thread got a bit contorted like many do, but energy is relative to communication so I will through this in.
If you are in an area where fire wood is free of cheap enough, a wood gasifier will run generators easily. Small ones are becoming quite common. They are not difficult to build if you have a minimum of welding capability of friend available to weld for you.  They range from fancy to very crude, but even very crude ones can work. I won't get to the theory or construction, it is all over the internet, especially youtube.

For some, it is a very viable method. I have gathered enough material mostly for free, and a welding machine. It is on my list, but the new radio room has to be finished first.

Blue Rocket

Greetings. I've got a question about power requirements to support Winlink email communication. I just started working with Winlink so please be gentle. After getting RMS Express and Winmor configured between my computer and TS-590, I started running some tests for the last couple of weeks and I've noticed that I've needed about 25w of power to make and sustain contact with RMS stations within a 1,000 mile radius. My antenna is average -- a multi-band dipole (40m, 20m, 10m) about 35ft AGL. In RMSE I've always picked stations in the Winmor Channel Selection tool on 40m or 20m with the best Path Quality Estimates -- always in the "green". I've tried to pick stations that are abeam of my dipole rather than off the ends. Propagation on 40m and 20m over this period of time has been average. I've monitored my signal using various webSDR stations and it takes about 15w to get my signal to register on these webSDR stations. I've made some connections at 5w and 10w, but these are rare and often get dropped. 25w seems to be the requirement for reliable Winlink comms. Are my results typical?

I'd really be interested to hear what others on this thread have to say about the power requirements of the Winmor protocol. How much TX power does a guy need? I was hoping a 10w QRP station (read KX3, netbook, solar, 2.5aH battery) could get the job done while camping, fishing, sailing, etc. I look forward to experimenting with this mode and would love to hear how others have used it away from home.



Hello Mike,

I have been testing with 5W, which is all my KX3 can do in 100% duty cycle. It has been difficult. The propagation has to be just right. The advantage of the KX3 is that it only burns 170mAh on receive, but of course if I have to try multiple times to connect, that becomes a moot point. I could use a small 50W amp and Eeepc laptop for Winlink... That also implies a bigger battery and solar panel though, oh well... I like to keep things simple but it might be worth the effort, especially that my parents live very far away. Otherwise, CW does everything I want and the KX3 gives me numerous bands and modes. It even runs on AA batteries! I can't think of anyone to email except my parents though, and Ray probably but we do CW, it's easier on batteries...

With Winlink you can't, that I know of, listen to everyone for news. That would be SSB or CW, even modes like PSK-31 or RTTY. You lmost need a dedicated radio for digital, and that's more money and complexity. Forget carrying the stuff...

So, I might stay with the KX3 5W, a small solar panel and an Asus EeePC, which runs on 12V...

I think your 25W estimate is probably right on...



Sounds like your main concern is conserving power, and justifiably so, when the power grid fails for an extended time power will be a very precious commodity indeed.

I'll freely admit to having no Winmor experience, like Gil I'm a CW guy, but regardless if you're using digital, phone or CW, the absolute best way to improve reliability of contact is not via more power but via more antenna. Were I in your situation I'd concentrate my efforts into mounting your current antenna higher, switching to a higher gain antenna or better yet both.
"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" - Benjamin Franklin


Blue Rocket

Gil/KKOG: thanks for the reply. Yes, power, weight, and antenna are all a concern and its not a new problem, now is it? There's probably good reason mil-spec HF manpacks are at least 20w systems. I was hoping to defy physics and come up with a digital solution that was pedestrian portable without the entire station being 25 pounds. I may still play around with a digital QRP setup just for educational purposes on the trail this summer, but I think you are right, that the pedestrian coms option is CW. The problem is that my siblings are scatters across the country and a few of my kids are away at college. I might be able to talk one of them into learning CW. One daughter is like minded and she would be a good relay operator -- social, yet detail oriented plus she's in a good rural spot.

Now on a different tack, how does a pactor modem change the equation? I understand they are better at getting a weak signal  through at better speeds. I'm not looking to haul around another fragile piece of expensive electronics but I'm just interested to know how much better a pactor modem is at getting the signal through at low power. RadioRay/WA4TSO: what say you? If generating and storing juice was a key constraint at the base station, would a pactor modem be worth it? I know worth is a relative term, but if the pactor device would have an extended and active life, say on a blue water sailboat, would it's insertion into the configuration allow lower power (lower current) and prolong the lifespan of other elements of the power generation/storage system?



Quote from: Blue Rocket on April 07, 2014, 07:08:17 pmhow does a pactor modem change the equation?

The difference is huge - I have had solid 20m P3 links cross country using ten watts from an IC-703+ and a wire dipole up about 50ish feet.  The other end was one of the military 20 watt radios with the power dialed back to about 10 watts and a dipole up about 50ish feet.  I'm in southwestern Washington (state) and my friend was in Maryland or Virginia at the time.  A mutual friend took his P3 modem on camping/fishing trips in - I think - Kentucky and was able to reliably connect to the Maryland/Virginia station,  but I don't  think he was able to connect with my station using his field antenna.

My experience has been that the quick turn-around time of message exchanges using Pactor III
offsets the extra power requirement.  We had many, many message transfers where waiting messages were sent/received in less than a couple of minutes.  So although the power requirements seemed high, in reality it wasn't so much because it was quickly over.

The big issue is carrying the gear on your back... you have a radio, modem, computer, antenna and battery power to cope with.  If you are backpacking it is a problem.  Car camping, RVing or staying at home it is not an issue - you can easily get enough power from alternative power sources for short contacts.  The aforementioned Maryland/Virginia contact sent me a jpeg photograph of his new sailboat via Pactor III in well under 10 minutes of contact time.

The other big issue is paying for the modem... when I bought mine I did not have backup email service where I live - my internet was via DSL so if the phone lines went down I lost DSL and phone service too, so I couldn't use dialup as a backup.  Back then, cell service out here was limited to voice, no data.  The Pactor III modem made a great backup for those times when winter storms took down the phone lines between me and the Central Office.  Now, cell service is much better but I won't sell my SCS modem.  It just moved down to second tier backup.



Quote from: Quietguy on April 07, 2014, 08:24:46 pm

The difference is huge -

I agree, the difference is huge.

But to offset that, there is the notion that there are many (many!) more WL2K/winmor stations to accept your traffic then there are pactor MBOs.

I do both pactor and WL2K numerous times every day.  And, while both systems scan, there just aren't as many of the pactor systems in place

so it's a bit of a crap shoot.

If there were similar numbers of each mode, I'd certainly want to be able to use Pactor 1-3 as primary for NTS traffic and WL2K for everything else.  but that's just me.




Luck, I don't follow why you are distinguishing between Pactor and WL2K - do you mean Winmor?  My SCS modem connects with WL2K stations just fine and the P3 speed advantage is very real.  A quick check of the WL2K public RMS Pactor list shows quite a few stations are available.  Unfortunately, my favorite WL2K station (W7IJ) has gone SK, but I have alternatives.  It is a rare day when I can't connect with a WL2K station somewhere, and that's always due to propagation problems.

Someday I'll give Winmor a try to see if the HF peer-to-peer capability really works (I know it does in Pactor), but for WL2K I'll stay with Pactor.



Quote from: Quietguy on April 07, 2014, 09:38:26 pm
Luck, I don't follow why you are distinguishing between Pactor and WL2K - do you mean Winmor?

Oh, this could easily be wrongthink on my part.  Maybe it would help if I would describe my daily operational habit:

1.  First I check the Central Area NTSD (pactor only, no WL2K involved)  MBO for my traffic.  That would be KB0OFD in MO.  He is my ONLY option, since the worldwide traffic destined for my station goes solely to his station for my retrieval.  Ditto for almost all traffic for DL4FN.  Ditto for all NTS traffic for Nebraska and Western Kansas.

Once my incoming and outgoing NTS traffic is dealt with, it's on to:

2.  WL2K.  And here's where (my) wrongthink may be coming into play due to ignorance on my part. To my mind, WL2K equates to the winmor mode.  I'm not aware of any WL2K messaging that is done on any HF digital mode other than Winmor.  Maybe on VHF, but that doesn't apply to me out in the cornfields. 

To word that another way, if I try to connect to a WL2K station anywhere on HF, it will necessarily be via the winmor mode.

But that's really the good news.  And it's why I differentiate.  For me, with only one station available to me on NTSD pactor, I have to be very careful to obey the rules of propagation.  During the daytime, I might be able to get to him on 40, 30 or 20.  During the evening hours, I can forget 20 and might very well have to squirt Pactor RF in his direction on 80.  But with WL2K, I have a huge number of choices, regardless of the time of day.

Unfortunately, the radio email features of WL2K result in my getting very few messages via winmor.  That's because that system isn't set up to understand how to route traffic except to individual callsigns, and then, only if those callsigns are registered on the WL2K network.  So if I get 500 messages a month via any digital mode, only a handful of them will be via WL2K.  That's because one system (NTSD pactor) knows how to route anything for Nebraska zip codes to me.  WL2K does not.

On the other hand, WL2K is FAR superior for handling messages for the ARES, EMCOMM, and emergency services crowd, provided that they are able to delineate -- in advance -- the callsigns of WL2K recipients who can be relied upon to handle their inquiries. For example, the Office of Emergency Services in Lincoln Nebraska could generate Texas-bound messages to their counterparts in Dallas by way of specific WL2K stations.  NTSD pactor doesn't have those constraints since those MBOs are set up to work on an "NTSTX" or "77555@NTSTX" basis but that makes a couple of assumptions about the capabilities of the 'delivering' stations.

Both NTSD and WL2K operators have a long way to go in order to be able to serve the public well at all.  But it's happening slowly.

Best 73

Luck, WA4STO