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Taking another look at Packet Radio

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by W4KYR, Apr 4, 2017.

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  1. W4KYR

    W4KYR Ham Member QRZ Page

    In the late 1980's through the mid 1990's packet radio was all the rage. Amateur radio operators could send email to other hams across the state, across the country or even other countries. Instead of texting with your phone, you did keyboard to keyboard text on the ham bands. You could browse bulletin boards, send and receive files and even pictures.

    All this was done over radio without the benefit of the internet or cell towers. In fact you didn't even need to be anywhere near a cell tower and even need commercial power. You could run your entire station on 12 volts. But it gets even better. You don't need a sophisticated computer. In fact you don't need a Windows computer or a Mac, in fact you didn't even need a PC! Got your interest? Good

    Lets take a peek back at packet radio through this ten part series from the 'Denver Radio Packet Class' so can get a close up look at packet radio in action. These professionally done video tapes were shot in early 1992 at the very height of the 'packet radio revolution'!

    Go to

    And click 'DRC Packet Radio Class'

    But what about today? Don't we have faster means to communicate? We do, we have HSMM-Broadband, ARDEN networks and PACTOR III which all can communicate much faster than packet. So why bother at all with packet radio? No one even makes packet modems today.

    Not true, in fact packet modems or Terminal Node Controllers (TNC's) are still being sold in 2017. There are several manufacturers that still produce them including Timewave, Coastal Works/MFJ and Kantronics. The TNC that seems to be the "Gold standard" today seems to be the KPC-3 Plus which sells for around $200.

    All the top 3 online vendors sell new packet TNC's. If you want to save money, you can buy HT's with built in packet modems. The Kenwood TH-D7/ag (built in the 1990's) can often be found for less than $150 used. The Kenwood TH-D72 and the new TH-D74 both have built in packet modems.

    OK, but why bother with a TNC if you could use a sound card? There are advantages using a TNC instead of a sound card. If you have a TNC with a mailbox, you can set it up so it will receive mail to your TNC inbox without your computer on.

    You can setup a packet station in the corner of your shack and leave it unattended and free up your computer for more important tasks. If your TNC is fairly sophisticated like the "Kantronics KPC-3 Plus" , you can even set up your TNC to be an unattended Packet Radio BBS! There are videos that explain how to do this.

    What about KISS modems like the Coastal works/MFJ 1270-X? The problem with KISS modems is that you have to use a program like AGWPE to access the KISS modem. Some find AGWPE a bit difficult to use. Other solutions is to use some other software based program with the KISS modem. But you can't use simple terminal programs like Hyper-Terminal or PuTTY with a KISS modem. You have to use some kind of software.

    But you say "Packet Radio is slow, so why use it when there are faster much means to communicate. Well the problem is cost, new Pactor modems cost $1500. Even used Pactor modems can cost well above the price of new basic HF rig!

    So what about HSMM and ARDEN?

    Sure, while they aren't as expensive (under $200) they are restricted to line of sight. Unless one has a mountain or a tower at their disposal, you might be lucky to get 10 miles coverage. On the other hand, HF packet radio travel hundreds or thousands of miles depending on frequency.

    In many areas of the country, HSMM and ARDEN is not widely used. I asked last year (on another ham forum) how many are using HSMM or ARDEN in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky area. I didn't get one response which was surprising because Ohio has a large concentration of ham radio operators.

    Truth is, there are still more packet radio networks and stations in use today than those using HSMM or ARDEN. While we no longer use a horse and a buggy anymore to cross the country, we do use horseback for search and rescue. A horse can get in areas that most 4 wheel drives cannot access.

    Packet radio's biggest appeal is it's cost. It may cost you nothing to start your own packet radio station! If you been a ham for some years, chances are you may have everything at your disposal to put your own packet radio station on the air tonight. All you need is a computer (that old XP computer sitting in your basement will do fine, even that old Windows 98 computer sitting in the garage will do. Yes, even that ancient 35 year old VIC-20 can do as well!).

    You'll need a 2 meter radio, that old Icom IC-2A sitting in your drawer or that HTX - 202 sitting in the closet will do just fine. You'll need an antenna. You'll also need a TNC, you can find perfectly functional used ones on eBay for $35 or less shipped! You'll need a terminal program (FREE!). In Windows XP and going back to Windows 98, there is the free "Hyper-Terminal" utility.

    Have a newer computer? No problem, you can use the free PuTTY program.

    So who uses packet radio today? Winlink does for it's VHF operations. Select Packet under the 'RMS Map' tab, then select the 'RMS List'.

    OK, so where do I go for more information about setting up my own packet radio station?
    Fortunately there are numerous free video tutorials, there are many .pdf tutorials and there are even FREE packet radio books as well.

    Lst year, K8BZ in Michigan produced 17 videos based just around the KPC-3 Plus and the ecomm program "Outpost Packet Message Manager". Please go to YouTube and put "K8BZ Packet Radio Networks" in the search.

    Or go to this direct link

    Other good packet radio video sources are from the very popular "Commsprepper Channel"

    Packet Radio - West Virginia's DAREN Nightly Check In

    How files and data can be transferred between vehicles with PCs, handheld radios (FT-60R & Wouxun) with the TNC-X packet radio controller/modem.

    Retreat Packet Radio Node Online

    Commsprepper main channel

    What about HF packet?
    'Network 105' on 20 meters is popular.


    Want a free book or two?

    Here is a free complete 'book' of 18 chapters by Larry Kenney, WB9LOZ on packet radio written in 1988 and updated in the 1990's.

    Here is another 'book' , "A Primer For Packet Radio" and "A Handbook For The Advanced Packet Radio System Node Operator" by Buck Rogers.

    In addition there are still very old DOS, Win 3.1 and Win 95 packet radio software out there on the 'net. Among them is the classic "PaKet 6" , which runs in DOS. (Another case for holding on to old computers.)

    The bottom line is that while today's internet and cellphone networks are great, fast and reliable. They can go down due to a local power outage, a bad snow or ice storm. And whether it be a hurricane or an earthquake, you can still send, store and forward email, text, send or receive emergency lists and view images of storm damage in and out of affected areas through packet radio.
  2. K4PIH

    K4PIH Ham Member QRZ Page

    If's the cell phone syndrome. Why do I need HF radio when my whiz bang ultra super side view cell phone is faster and can send pictures and stuff?

    I talk about packet and RTTY at work with other hams and they look at me like I have horns and a tail.
    W4KYR likes this.
  3. W4KYR

    W4KYR Ham Member QRZ Page

    I've talked about packet radio at length at the other forum. I figure I'll see how well it goes over here.
  4. AD5KO

    AD5KO Ham Member QRZ Page

    Packet, APRS, love it. Currently operating an APRS satellite i-gate and an APRS station. :)
    Last edited: Apr 4, 2017
    KM4FVI likes this.
  5. W3WN

    W3WN Ham Member QRZ Page

    OK if I use your post in a future newsletter?
  6. KL7AJ

    KL7AJ Ham Member QRZ Page

    I have a couple of plain vanilla pac
    I have a couple of plain vanilla packet links I use to transfer scientific data between my home and my remote experiment station (in a non-ham friend's barn) Plain packet still has a big role to play, I believe.
    KF5CSW and AD5KO like this.
  7. K3XR

    K3XR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Enjoyed packet when it was at it's peak have tried to get some interest in this area but only found one station who has a limited set up ( 2 meters) and is out of range seems that lot's of other digital modes and things like DMR are in the forefront and packet was left behind don't know if there will be a revival but would be glad to participate.
    W4NNF and W4KYR like this.
  8. W4KYR

    W4KYR Ham Member QRZ Page

    There is still some packet radio activity in the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area. In addition to to VHF and HF packet. There is also "Robust packet" on 30 meters and it requires the use of expensive SCS modems. But it is faster than 'traditional packet'.
  9. W4KYR

    W4KYR Ham Member QRZ Page

    Which newsletter is that?
  10. W0AEW

    W0AEW Ham Member QRZ Page

    Anyone remember the Poor Man's Packet described in 73 magazine back in the early 90s? I built one and used it with an Alinco 2-meter rig. I'd connect to another local packeteer who had a satellite setup. Several of us in the Denver area would connect to his station per schedule & connect with a Fuji BBS satellite to leave and retrieve msgs, mostly with hams in JA land.
    W4KYR and K3XR like this.

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