Author Topic: Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem  (Read 4934 times)

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem
« on: July 17, 2015, 12:06:14 PM »
Lately earthquake preps have been a popular topic in my region.   In my estimation it could be extremely useful to be able to communicate FROM a disaster area TO an unaffected area where support might originate.  I won't digress into all the different communication modes and what's best, but consider the use case that your area and a 50+ mile radius is "off grid" and you want to send an email.

This might be a simple "hi Mom, I'm ok", or a detailed situation report used in official emergency management.  In previous decades this was served by radiograms, which are still a possibility, but let's be open minded about some 21st century alternatives.  Winlink is a global email messaging system that connects the RF world to the internet. 

Winlink (http://www.winlink.org/) is a broader topic, and the basics should be understood before digging much further. 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Winlink, also known as the Winlink 2000 Network, is a worldwide radio messaging system that mixes internet technology and appropriate amateur radio radio frequency (RF) technologies. The system provides radio interconnection services including: email with attachments, position reporting, graphic and text weather bulletins, emergency relief communications, and message relay. The system is built and administered by volunteers without pecuniary interests. Winlink 2000 is a project of the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation, Inc. (ARSFI), a charitable entity and 501c(3) non-profit organization registered with the US Internal Revenue Service.[1]


There are a few methods and/or protocols that allow you access winlink, as well as a few different client software applications. 
The application used by my local Emergency Communications team is RMS Express.  It seems quite popular and is regularly updated.
Download link: http://www.winlink.org/RMSExpress

I started out using plain old "telnet" that uses no RF at all just to get familiar with RMS Express.  I highly recommend you read the various FAQs to get familiar with the concepts.

FAQ:
http://www.winlink.org/sites/default/files/wl2k_faq_20150314.pdf

Winlink overview from a prepper perspective:
http://www.thesurvivalistblog.net/rms-express-secure-email-over-amateur-radio/

Winmor tutorial (this has the important technical details you will need):
http://www.mecklenburgares.org/pdffiles/ConfigRMSWinlink.pdf

General digital hf station guide (recommended reading):
https://stationproject.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/setting-up-a-digital-hf-station/


Tips/Tricks/Notes

* Adjusting RX and TX levels from the sound card is critical.  With Winmor in RMS Express, we use a "virtual TNC".  You'll have trouble if levels aren't adjusted properly.
Ideally the receive level should lie in the "green" zone, not blue or red.  Hopefully you can see in this screen shot.


* Advantage of an external soundcard is you don't have to mute other system noises on your PC.  With an appropriate cable interface with your PC sound card to the radio's mic/speaker/PTT you can make it work.  You'll probably spend at least $50 unless you have a lot of parts on hand.  The Tigertronics USB Signalink is extremely popular and featured in many tutorials.  Also, unlike TNC used for packet on VHF, dedicated sound cards work fantastic for other digital modes like PSK31 on HF.



* Consider a rig control interface, that allows software to see the current frequency for logging and remotely change frequency as needed

Offline Chemsoldier

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Re: Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem
« Reply #1 on: July 17, 2015, 12:24:15 PM »
Great write up!  Thank you for that.

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem
« Reply #2 on: July 17, 2015, 12:35:50 PM »
Great write up!  Thank you for that.

No problem.  Just did all this last night and it's fresh in my brain.  Propagation was horrible, and I never did get a station to answer.  I know my rig setup works as I was operating PSK31 using FLDigi.

RMS express/winmor have some propagation and forecasting tools.  These are really helpful, as they provide distance, heading and estimated quality of signal.  While on the internet you can update the tables that contain the station lists, and estimated propagation.  You can also update this via radio - assuming you can reach another winlink station.

I immediately thought of the pickle you could get into if you had no internet access and couldn't find a station to connect to.  Who will you ask if you don't know who can hear you?

I'll work on a strategy to cope with this scenario.

Offline FreeLancer

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Re: Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem
« Reply #3 on: July 17, 2015, 01:39:16 PM »
.

Offline Carl

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Re: Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem
« Reply #4 on: July 17, 2015, 01:57:58 PM »
Good ,well rounded,introduction....PLUS ONE Smurf.

Offline Smurf Hunter

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Re: Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem
« Reply #5 on: July 20, 2015, 12:50:08 PM »
After a weekend of testing I have some follow up tips.  These worked for me and my gear, and I'm not sure how station or operator specific they may be.

1) turn on AGC (auto gain control)
2) turn off compression
3) turn up power to 50+ watts
4) turn TX knob on signalink to at least 9:00
5) make sure your radio is tuned to the "dial frequency" and NOT the "center frequency" displayed on the channel details


I could get connections with less gain and less TX power, but it took several retries to get ACK from the server.  Increasing the TX signal improved the chances of punching through, had less resent packets, and thus was faster. 

For those old enough to remember, this bandwidth of winmor is on par with a 300baud dial up modem.  (I never had a modem that slow!)
It makes matters much worse if you need to re-transmit (done automatically) 33% of your packets - effectively reducing your transmission speed to 200bps.

Since 40 meter is the lower frequency I have a wire cut for, I would always choose the strongest 40m station on the propagation table.  Often 80 meter stations were sorted higher on the list.  I'm able to receive and tune my antenna on 80m using CW/phone, but haven't felt bold enough to attempt with winmor.

Offline iam4liberty

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Re: Winmor - HF email without an expensive TNC/modem
« Reply #6 on: July 20, 2015, 10:34:19 PM »
Yes, +1!

This might be a simple "hi Mom, I'm ok", or a detailed situation report used in official emergency management.  In previous decades this was served by radiograms, which are still a possibility, but let's be open minded about some 21st century alternatives.  Winlink is a global email messaging system that connects the RF world to the internet. 

Also, winlink and APRS talk to each other via APRSLink: http://www.winlink.org/aprslink  This can be very handy when local cell towers are overcrowded and you want to send or receive emails on the go.