By Walter Isaacson
Digital communications on the HF frequencies has been difficult to accomplish. Packet radio (AX25 protocol), running at 300 baud has been used but it is prone to failure and loss of connection so has not been popular. On VHF and UHF frequencies packet radio, even at 1200 baud is much more successful.
Several protocols have been developed as an alternative to AX25 packet radio for hf communications. A pair of German amateur radio operators developed a protocol called Pactor and built TNCs (Terminal Node Controllers) supporting the Pactor protocol. The protocol and TNCs evolved into Pactor 3 which proved to work well on the hf bands. Pactor 3 (software and TNC) was not released into the public domain but is propriety property of the original German hams. Pactor 3 costs in the neighbourhood of $1100 to $1500.
A group of amateur radio operators calling themselves “the Winlink development team” wrote an email messaging software package and developed a world wide message handling network operating on hf frequencies called Winlink 2000. Volunteer radio amateur operators built and operate Winlink 2000 message servers around the world. Winlink 2000 with Pactor 3 TNCs and hf radios is a hit with offshore sailing boats and has become the standard form for long distant messaging among the offshore boating crowd.
The Winlink team developed TNC software that performs much like Pactor 3 TNCs. The software has just come out of the beta testing stage and is now in general distribution. The software is called WINMOR. WINMOR uses the sound card thats in the computer. The software is distributed free of charge. Along with WINMOR a new email manager program designed for the Winlink 2000 system has been released called RMS Express. RMS Express looks very much like like an e-mail client program for the internet (Thunderbird, Outlook Express, etc.). The best way to get WINMOR is to download RMS Express with WINMOR already embedded into RMS Express. Also download and install the propagation program ITSHF into its default location. WINMOR can use the propagation program to evaluate and rank RMS Express server stations. ITSHF is in the public domain and is free to download.
I downloaded and installed the software on my laptop. The software installed nicely and without a hitch. I interfaced my laptop computer to my Yaesu FT-747 radio (the radio is some 20 years old and lacking some features of the modern radios). I decided to use a Signal Link USB as my interface. Use of the Signal Link greatly simplifies interfacing the radio to the laptop computer. The FT-747 lacks the data port that is present in more modern radios. I ended up connecting to the radio through the microphone connector. The Signal Link USB has a sound card that is superior to the sound card in the laptop computer and probably contributes to the effectiveness of WINMOR. WINMOR requires fairly accurate adjustment of the frequency of the hf radio. I found using FLDIGI to be an effective tool to check the calibration of the hf radio. FLDIGI has an operating mode called Frequency Analysis. I tuned my radio to 9.999 Mhz in USB mode and confirmed I was listening to WWV. I looked at my display and I could immediately see how well my calbration was. I found on my radio it was off by about 200 Hz even when I tried to adjust my reference crystal oscillator. Obviously my crystal has aged over the years and to get my FT-747 right on frequency I would need to replace the crystal. My FT-747 also lacks computer rig control so I cant have WINMOR automatically tune my radio to the RMS Express server stations. I have to manually tune the radio to the desired frequency remembering to set the 200 Hz offset to the dial calibration.
Running RMS Express for the first time takes you to the setup page. You enter your call sign and other station information. Your station location is entered as a 6 character grid square. WINMOR used the grid square for the propagation calculations to all the RMS Express server stations giving a quality number to the propagation to each RMS server station. A number of 50 or higher usually means the signal is very strong. A number of 10 means the signal is predicted to be very weak and likely contact will be impossible. The default distance is set to 4000 kilometers and usually about 20 stations will be listed that are between 50 and 10. You will see RMS Express server stations on many bands and frequencies. The list will change according to the time of day. The default SSN (smoothed sunspot number) is set to 72 but you can check on the internet for the current SSN and enter it into WINMOR which updates the list. I usually connect to a station in Spanaway, WA. That station I can connect to most any time of the day (either on 80 meters or 40 meters). I’ve had good luck connecting to stations much farther away. One day I chose a station that was 1600 kilometers away, somewhere in the south west in the states (could have looked up the call on QRZ to confirm his location). The contact was on 17 meters (18.106 Mhz) and his signal was strong and solid.
To use WINMOR start RMS Express. If you are going to send a message, click on New Message or Reply to message, etc. and create the message like any email client. When done click on the button marked “ Post to Outbox”. At this point RMS Express can go to WINMOR or Telenet or Packet (several choices). If you choose Telenet The message is sent out on the internet (RMS Express in this mode is just another e-mail client). If you choose WINMOR click on OPEN SESSION. Now a virtual TNC appears (graphical display showing lots of information about the session). Also the WINMOR screen opens up. Click on CHANNEL SELECTION and click on an RMS Express server call sign. The Channel Selection list will disappear and the information about the RMS Express server station will appear in a line at the top of the page. Click on START and watch the pretty lights (on the virtual TNC). Everything at this point is automatic. WINMOR will make the connection, WINMOR will display the status of the connection. If there is traffic in the Outbox WINMOR will upload the message (or messages) to the Server. When the message has been sent, the message in the Outbox folder will be moved to the SENT folder. If there is incoming traffic, WINMOR will download the traffic and place it in the Inbox. When its done WINMOR automatically disconnects.
I’ve found WINMOR very robust, it just works. WINMOR is said to be slower than PACTOR 3 but I suspect only by a little bit. WINMOR is also appears to be secure. I only see traffic when my station is connected and traffic is directed to my station. I can’t read other peoples traffic though there maybe software that would permit this but I haven’t found it yet. It means e-mails entered into the WinLink 2000 system are kept private.
When you configure the WINMOR program you have set your WinLink address. Its (your callsign@Winlink.org). My Winlink e-mail address is VA7ANI@Winlink.org. I can send traffic from my WINMOR station to any internet e-mail address (for example to my regular internet e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.). I can also send e-mails from my regular internet address to my WINMOR station i.e. VA7ANI@Winlink.org. I can send and receive e-mails between my WINMOR station and any other WINMOR/WinLink station, i.e. Sailboat on the other side of the ocean. Note: I recommend adding “//WL2K” to the beginning of the subject line to any message entering the WinLink 2000 system. Otherwise WinLink 2000 may consider your e-mail to be spam and delete it.