E-Mail Over Radio for Preppers

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

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A little history... WL2K predates the Winmor sound card system, and originally was only available via Pactor.  The early users were predominately blue water sailors who didn't maintain a commercial email-over-radio account.  As the system got more popular, land-based stations started using it and the system grew.  A friend of mine who is on this forum recommended I try WL2K as an alternative email system and as a peer-to-peer messaging system that enables people to exchange messages without the need for both to be on the radio at the same time. 

I started with a Kantronics Kam+ which does Pactor 1 and the system worked very well.  My friend and I exchanged messages coast to coast, but the Kam+ does not support scanning so I had to  leave my station on a fixed frequency.  I would change bands a couple times per day to follow propagation, but it wasn't as convenient as it could have been. 

About the time I became sold on the system, many WL2K stations quit accepting P1 connections because their traffic load was increasing and the slow speed of P1 was creating bottlenecks.  That was a bummer for me and my Kam+, so I bit the bullet and bought an SCS P2/P3 modem.  At that time, Winmor had not been developed and was not an option.  The difference between the SCS modem and the Kam+ was truly amazing.

Later, Winmor development reached the point where they went to public testing with only a very few Winmor stations, but by that time I was firmly entrenched in the Pactor world and didn't pay any attention to it.  As more time went by, more and more Winmor HF stations went live, until now many of the HF stations are tri-mode capable.  Tri-mode means they understand Pactor (P1 - P4), Winmor (500 Hz and 1600 Hz) and Robust Packet.  The same station has the equipment and hardware to handle all three protocols interchangeably.  Not all RMS stations handle all modes, but many do.

WL2K serves an entirely different purpose than NTS or NTSD; it enables direct one to one communications without involving intermediate station handling.  The Winlink people have added tactical callsigns to the mix but I believe those are limited to the public service stations such as may be operated by a local emergency management group.  I have not followed the development of these "private" groups.

At one time a group of friends across the country and I experimented with peer-to-peer Pactor linking using the Airmail software that enabled us to maintain very solid contact 24/7.  As most experiments go, this eventually faded away and several of the hams sold their SCS modems.  Initially,  Winmor did not support peer-to-peer connections and only connections to RMS stations were supported.  I have heard, but not verified, that Winmor now supports peer-to-peer; if so, that would make it a valuable addition to a prepper's comms toolbox because of the low cost.  The ability to receive messages while the station is unattended is very, very nice.

My main interest in email-over-radio was to provide a convenient way to stay in touch with friends without having to keep schedules - particularly when multiple time zones are involved.  The ability to do WL2K email as a backup to normal email is a nice bonus.



Quote from: WA4STO on April 08, 2014, 03:22:18 PM
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.

Ah!  There's the part where I was so wrong.  Thanks, Wally, for reminding me.

My own historical perspective goes back way before WL2K as well.  Back when I was a ship to shore Amtor operator on cape cod, and slightly later when I was at ARRL HQ, I was very active on what was then called APLINK.  I played a tiny but important role in the ability of the USS J.F.K. as well as the "Last Voice from Kuwait" effort (see http://www.amrron.com/ to handle Amtor/APLINK traffic to and from the U.S. State Department, CBS News (Charles Kuralt), and thousands of sailors' families back home during the first Gulf war.

Then, after I got fired from ARRL HQ, I lost all interest in most of this stuff, which is likely why I totally fail to recall the activities that you spoke of, Wally.  Thanks for bringing me back up to speed on that.  For some reason, it continues to amaze me that pactor remains such a vibrant part of WL2K.  They've done well to bring it all together like that.



Blue Rocket

Gentlemen, thanks for the answers to my inquiries and Luck thanks for the excellent synopsis of WL2K. I've got another question. Since I don't have a pactor device, I cannot see the list of possible pactor stations to connect with. I'm interested to know just how available they would be if I went this route (from the 2nd hand market). I found a link on the winlink.org website where I could download a listing of all the various stations in the network (winmor, pactor, robust packet and packet 1200). http://www.winlink.org/RMSPacketStatus  Can either of you fine gentlemen confirm the pactor list on the web is about the same list you see inside the RMS Express > HF Channel Selector window? It looks like there's 45 unique call signs in North America for pactor and 47 unique calls signs in NA for winmor. 21 of the stations do both modes, the rest do one mode or the other. It seems from this list I found that there are about equal number of win more and pactor stations. Does that seem about right? That seems encouraging for a potential pactor user on WL2K. I haven't had much problem finding a clear channel "in the green" according to the Path Quality Estimate using winmor, but I am interested in minimizing power output and power consumption. Perhaps a pactor modem would be a good element in a QRP minded operator.

Would appreciate any feedback on the above mentioned list of pactor stations in the WL2K network.



Mike, I haven't operated Winmor or RMSExpress, so I can't comment on availability within their software.  I have always used Airmail, which is an older program, and the station list can get outdated if new lists aren't downloaded periodically.  Airmail does not download new lists automatically, it is done on request.  I don't operate away from home so I purge the list of stations I'm not likely to use, just to keep the clutter down.

If you go to the WL2K system map at http://www.winlink.org/RMSMap, select Pactor and zoom in you can see the stations that are currently active.  Green means they have checked in recently, yellow means it's been more than 2 hours, and red means it's been more than 4 hours.

These maps will give you an idea of how far you have to reach out, depending on your operating location.  I am in southwestern Washington state so there are quite a few stations north and south of me.  Several years ago I occasionally used a Canadian station because it was usually available, but lately I have tended to use the same two or three, depending on who is available at the time.

The thing to remember is this is all on HF, so proximity to a station is not usually an issue if you can get a suitable antenna in the air.  One friend of mine demonstrated the system from a campsite in Oklahoma by sending an email to a friend in England via an RMS station somewhere in the Atlantic, outside US jurisdiction, just to make the point that email could be sent out of the country without using any infrastructure subject to US government control.  I don't remember where the RMS station was, and it might not be there any more, but the point is that there is an awful lot of flexibility in the system.  One of my easiest shots is 20 meters daytime to the RMS station at the San Diego Yacht Club in southern California.  A decent 20 meter antenna from a camp site should be doable because of the relatively short length - at least compared to 80 meters.  A few months ago just for giggles I linked with a Florida RMS station just to see if the path was open.  I got a good connection with him.



There are also VHF gateways for RMS Express too.  I've got 5 or 6 within a few miles of my house.  If push comes to shove you might be able to try one of those.

Now is the time to work out all the bugs in your operation so when things really do go sideways your cooler head will be able to carry the day.


April 09, 2014, 03:14:34 PM #20 Last Edit: April 12, 2014, 09:12:15 PM by RadioRay
Quote from: Blue Rocket on April 08, 2014, 10:20:39 PM
and Luck thanks for the excellent synopsis of WL2K. I've got another question. Since I don't have a pactor device, I cannot see the list of possible pactor stations to connect with.

Oh, you're more than welcome.

I suspect that you're looking for WL2K "pactor stations" to connect to.  But in addition to those, here's a link to the NTSD pactor MBOs whose primary purpose is to handle NTS message traffic.  The link is very likely to show you connection points that you wouldn't otherwise use and those stations might well give you an idea of where, geographically, you can connect to.


Note that the NTSD stations will scan on different  frequencies from the WL2K ones.   

And there's one other VERY important point to note.  WL2K stations operate on USB and NTSD operates on LSB.

And finally, there's the point that I think Wally was getting at yesterday; there are certain "private" networks CALL SIGNS REMOVED BY ADMIN operate a private network that is somewhat more SHTF focused.  Most everyone is welcome, but the big/huge difference is that these folks refuse to allow any sort of connectivity with the internet.  They used to, and discovered some potential 'security' problems with internet - connected stations and they stay clear.  I'd recommend that the users of this group consider joining them.  Personally, I find that the bulletins that are sent on that network are SHTF  and preparedness related and that's cool.


Luck, WA4STO


April 15, 2014, 01:12:33 AM #21 Last Edit: April 15, 2014, 01:31:29 PM by Luigi
You can easily connect with low power. That will save your power sources. If you can use VOACAP (Part of the RMS Express install) on a monthly basis and do a point to propagation chart of your favorite RMS nodes. Store the chart nearby. When you need to make a connection, look at the charts before starting your radio or your computer. You may find that it is worth a few hours wait for better conditions. Starting up a laptop on battery power to read a propagation table in Winlink drains power supplies. It can be avoided. VOACAP is used by winlink RMS Express to help you choose a node. You can do the same thing way ahead of time.

Connecting: Start out with a 20-30 watt power setting and make sure ALC is not activating. Turn down the TX to avoid ALC action. ALC distorts your signal. Once connected, turn the power down as low as you can get it. As you turn down power, you may need to lower the TX setting to avoid ALC from ruining your signal. I do this and I get by with 5 watts many times.

Speaking of power, make sure wireless and blue tooth services are turned off. Also, make sure that a laptop monitor brightness is turned way down if possible. I do this during the email exchange process.

Use the review messages before downloading feature. This can save you a lot of time. There is always some idiot who will send an unwanted photo or a stupid chainletter (learn how to blacklist people if this carries on) when you least expect it. Bypass that messge and download the others. Also implore people to delete the content of your message when replying to you.

It is all about knowing the right time to transmit and planning ahead.

I do this when camping. It works out pretty well.

One last thing: Go to the WARC bands when the contestors are jamming the airwaves. They are not supposed to operate there. Sometimes this helps.



Mac solution:

Winlink works within a Windows 7/Parallels VM on a refurbished Mac Mini.  It hooks nicely via USB to my Signalink & Yaesu.   

White Tiger

Quote from: DCJon on July 08, 2014, 10:52:45 PM
Mac solution:

Winlink works within a Windows 7/Parallels VM on a refurbished Mac Mini.  It hooks nicely via USB to my Signalink & Yaesu.

Hey DCJon! I'm intrigued by your description of your setup - any way to coax a picture of it out of you?

I currently have an older Ten Tec (Omni D) and before moving forward with my plans to "gonHF digitalhaving had a conversation with a ham who has the same rig - I believe I can use it for digital commo's - however, I've also been warned by an engineer at Ten Tec that the Omni D is just too old/unstable for any modern digital modes outside of CW - I'm fighting the urge to think I'll need to upgrade...

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