Ham Radio Based E-mail – No Internet Connection Required!

Electrical power wires along with telephone wires and internet cable wires get knocked down on a not too infrequent basis around my home of Appleton, Wisconsin.  As a ham radio operator that is not too serious of a situation as I can always operate from my car or my hand-held amateur radio (my HT) which almost always has a full charge.  The use of e-mail is another issue.  Even if I restored power with a backup generator I still would not be able to use internet based email in many instances.  Ham radio offers a nice solution and has offered that solution for many many years.

For those of us that lose power for a few hours a year having a ham radio based e-mail solution may not seem like a big deal.  Think, however, of those that can’t access an internet link for longer time periods.  This has quite a range of amateur radio operators.  Think of people in remote locations.  Perhaps you live in Alaska of remote regions of Canada or are on a trip in your motor home in remote locations in the lower 48 states of the United States.  Think of people at sea or even cruising in the great lakes.  Also – think of disaster or even war situations.  I use the extreme situation and explain to people that, “Even if the United States got nuked and it knocked out the internet for most of us – this ham radio based email solution could provide an answer to many people.”

What is it called and how does it work?  WINLINK 2000 is the name of the system.  Here’s my understanding, in rough form, of how the system works.  My objective here is to provide a basic framework for someone that has never heard of such a thing or has heard of it and has no clue as to how it works.  This explanation is not meant to shed new light for the technical guru out there…    There also can be various configurations of how this can work – I will share my favorite configuration.

In business (I have been an Auditor or Financial Analyst most of my career) I use Microsoft Outlook a LOT!  I am also involved in Outagamie County ARES / RACES and our served agencies such as hospitals likely use Microsoft Outlook as an e-mail client (software that runs on a user’s computer).  With the WINLINK system I simply create a normal Outlook e-mail and click SEND as normal.  This is where the radio magic begins.

Outlook delivers my e-mail to a file on my computer’s hard drive.  In the internet connected world that file would then be transmitted by the internet to an e-mail provider’s server.  It is similar in the radio world.  A software such as Paclink aided by another software called AGW Packet Engine allows that file to be transmitted via the radio instead of via the internet.  I will skip the description of how that happens except to say that generally the data in the file is converted into sounds that the radio can transmit.  I will also skip which frequency and mode, etc..  You can transmit this data either locally with 2 meters or around the world on HF.  There might be different software involved, but you can make that happen if you need to.

Somewhere another station receives that signal – just like FM, SSB, CW, PSK, etc..  That receiving radio is connected to another computer and the sounds are then converted back from sounds into a data file.  From there the e-mail is put onto a WINLINK e-mail server.  I think of this server in much the same way as I think of an email server like AOL or Road Runner, etc..  Like all good servers these WINLINK servers are backed-up.  In fact, copies of these servers are maintained at – I think – six different locations around the world.  Those servers, in one way or another, then connect back to the normal internet e-mail system.  And that is why, even if the entire United States had an internet outage – I would still have email service as long as my ham radio still worked.

Being in Amateur Radio Emergency Services (A.R.E.S.), I test the functionality of this system once each week.  There is a Wisconsin State ARES Winlink net.  I send a radio e-mail once a week to check into the net.  The next day an acknowledgement is sent back to everyone that checked-in via radio.  The method is basic but is constant testing of an important function for us.

If you would like more information on the WINLINK radio based e-mail capability please refer to this link:

http://www.winlink.org/ .  Please note that this system should only be used for special applications.  You will also find that it may be slow compared to internet e-mail but it definitely does work well.  I also suggest that you join your local ARES / RACES team to be trained on specific settings and software options for WINLINK e-mails.  In and around Appleton, Wisconsin refer to this link:

www.OutagamieCountyARES.org and use the Contact link to get engaged.

Stay radio active!

73,

Jon Kreski – AB9NN– Appleton, Wisconsin / Green Bay, Wisconsin / Oshkosh, Wisconsin area

www.Twitter.com/AB9NN

P.S. Please visit my website www.HamRadioResources.com daily for solar weather and propagation forecasts as well as Twitter updates and fresh blog post notifications!

 




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