March 02, 2015

Winlink Packet Gateway Up at OEM

A new packet station is up and running at the Rusk County Office of Emergency Management, providing a Winlink gateway for local amateurs. The station is designated as W5CWT-10 and can be reached on 145.07 MHz.

The station is using the OEM's Icom V8000 radio at about 70 watts, connected to a large onmi-directional antenna above the building. KN5G was able to work the station from a little less than six miles away. Additional reports would be helpful in determining actual coverage area.

Although the station can be used as a digipeater, its primary function is to provide a local packet gateway to the Winlink system. Winlink is a volunteer-supported network of email servers located around the world. Access to the servers is provided by thousands of VHF and HF "gateway" stations.

HF gateways typically use the "Pactor" protocol or a similar open-source protocol called "Winmor." VHF station generally use packet the protocol. Radio amateurs can log into the system via a gateway and send or receive email messages, including ones to or from regular, non-amateur radio internet users.

To use the system, an amateur needs a radio, a computer and an interface to connect the two. In the past, a physical "TNC" or radio modem was required to act as an interface between the user's radio
and a computer. However, today, a sound card can do the job. All that is needed is a few wires to physically connect the card to the radio.

The amateur also needs the RMS Express software to coordinate the connection. RMS Express looks like an email client with additional modules to control the radio. Although Winmor (for HF) is built into RMS Express, additional software is needed to use packet. The most popular suite of programs for packet is called "AGW Express Interface" and can be downloaded for free from the W2YG webpage. It includes a step-by-step installation guide and typically handles the installation and configuration of all the required components in one setup process.

The RCARC plans to use the local gateway during emergency communication situations in support of local agencies.