Winlink VHF P2P Messages Uploaded by WinLink Express

Discussion in 'Ham Radio Discussions' started by KC3BLF, Apr 27, 2021.

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  1. N1EN

    N1EN Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Note that that slide deck was put together by an individual whose pet cause is to constrain amateur radio to open-source digital modes only.

    That being said...I don't know that the Winlink team itself was promoting "security through obscurity", but there was open discussion on the pros/cons of Winlink where one of the talking points was "we can't encrypt on amateur frequencies, but the compression algorithm makes it difficult for casual listeners to read your mail."

    As noted elsewhere in the thread, the changes to create an online archive of traffic were an obvious response to complaints raised to the FCC about the difficulty in self-policing Winlink on the amateur bands. I would agree, however, that Winlink Express ought to caution users about the online archive. Folks shouldn't be sending "private" (as in "I don't want bystanders to read") messages via amateur radio to begin with, but disclosures of where/how your data might be used should be standard operating practice.
    K0IDT, W0PV and (deleted member) like this.
  2. N1FM

    N1FM Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Pretty sure you're right about that. Speaking of all the petitions, I know the FCC is on lockdown and "working from home" but I wonder if any of them will be resolved in my lifetime?
    K0IDT likes this.
  3. N3HGB

    N3HGB Ham Member QRZ Page

    The one and only thing the FAA cares about in regards to WinLink is they do not ever want to hear about it again.

    It is a terrible program, it sends emails no one can read
    It is a terrible program, anyone can read all the emails
    K0IDT, K0UO and (deleted member) like this.
  4. KC3PBI

    KC3PBI XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Have you looked at JS8Call? It isn't e-mail, but the mode does provide a robust system for message storage, forwarding & relay. Again it is aimed at HF, it has provisions to work on VHF though there may be a dependency on SSB; I'm not clear on that point.
  5. N3HGB

    N3HGB Ham Member QRZ Page

    It uses tones like anything else, so in theory it would work on FM or AM, but being intended as a weak signal mode it would be kind of pointless. If there is a good VHF path I am not sure that would be the best way.
    We also need to differentiate the various layers:
    "Winlink" is commonly used as a synonym for Pactor 3/4, but Winlink sits up at the Application Layer. In theory it could use about anything to actually move data down at the bottom layers. One could write a program to move email via ham radio that used about anything to actually move the data, AMTOR, VHF packet, MFSK, PSK, or 100 other things. Some of them obviously are much better suited than others, but they all could work after a fashion.
    Long ago hams set up TCP/IP over VHF/UHF packet, so if you do that any email client one would normally use on the internet could work on your packet network. In North Carolina there is a VHF packet network using Raspberry-PI nodes that has some version of SMS and text chat going. That may be something to look into.
    K0IDT and (deleted member) like this.
  6. KC3PBI

    KC3PBI XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    @N3HGB Sure, you can really go nuts with this stuff. Sometimes you don't need to.

    The beauty of JS8Call is that you get quite a lot of that stack in one executable- it's fast and easy, and sometimes that is the right thing. I'll let the OP judge fitment for his application.
  7. N1FM

    N1FM Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    HGB - Thanks for that explanation. Good overview here:

    Winlink advocates make it sound trivial to decode but I think most hams would be lost without the proprietary modem. There is a cheaper alternative, however, which requires a recent Raspberry Pi, a soundcard, and a program called PMON.

    The difficult part to unravel (for most hams) is the compression layer.


    All of the parts of up to five messages are combined into a single “file” that is then compressed as a unit before transmission. Winlink uses the same compression program used for FBB B1 compression and available as B2Compress.exe in the FBB bulletin board package. Compatible derivative forms of the compression algorithm (LZH or LZHUF) are freely available online, and it's open development history can be explored by examining documentation within code sources. A formal description of the LZH format is at The actual source code used in Winlink programs is freely available and publicly archived at

    And of course, the ARRL has been championing emcomm and WL for decades, but Amateur Radio is not an emergency service.

    Amateur Radio is NOT an emergency service per FCC

    However, emcomm has brought donations to ARRL and others, and it has enabled 'served agencies' to use hams and ham radio for a variety of different public service activities. The FCC is also a served agency, and anonymous ARRL VMs work to monitor and advise hams to operate within the rules, and to report to the FCC regarding continued rule infractions, just as OOs once did.

    Detractors have complained that the rest of the Basis and Purpose is sometimes lost in the ARRL/WL focus on emcomm; and ARRL's focus contesting; being the amateur ears of the FCC; and serving other agencies.

    Public service comms comprise twenty percent of the Basis and Purpose, just as ARRL comprises twenty percent of the ham population and ARRL/WL detractors seem to think that 80/20 split ought to be recognized and appreciated.

    § 97.1 Basis and purpose.

    The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:

    (a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.

    (b) Continuation and extension of the amateur's proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.

    (c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.

    (d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.

    (e) Continuation and extension of the amateur's unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

    The hams who don't support ARRL, or emcomm via ham radio, have been vocal about their inability to copy WL without a proprietary modem; the potential loss of spectrum and privileges in pursuit of emcomm; the perceived commercialization of ham radio by various 'non-profit' entities, and; perceptions of misuse of spectrum by unlicensed boaters (and others) who use email sent via radio for commercial or nefarious purposes. I think I hit most of the hot spots in the debate about ARRL and WL in general but I'm sure I missed some of the arguments involved. K0IDT has been directy involved and he can tell you more about the 'inside scoop.'
    K0UO likes this.
  8. W4NNF

    W4NNF XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Ah, another Winlink thread on the Zed! And Emcomm in the mix! I shall sit back and observe... :D

    K8XG and K0UO like this.
  9. N1FM

    N1FM Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    LoL... there should be probably be a sticky so new guys with questions can refer to the thread, otherwise we're doomed to repeat it all like that Tom Cruise movie...

    A soldier (Tom Cruise) fighting aliens gets to relive the same day over and over again with another soldier (Emily Blunt), the day restarting every time he dies.
    K8XG and W4NNF like this.
  10. K0IDT

    K0IDT Ham Member QRZ Page

    I could Tom, but like W4NNF said, get the popcorn ready.

    This is the short version :) The problem with Winlink, the system, and the ARRL connection is the arrogant, elitist attitude of both parties and the failure to listen (RM-11306 et al comments) and respond to concerns about the way the system operates and the type of traffic carried over the ham bands -- lack of transparency on many levels. For the better part of 2 decades hams were told there was nothing going over the air that shouldn't, but when the Winlink viewer opened up the message database it told a way different story. ARSFI, the parent of Winlink, had been less then forthcoming and honest about what they enabled to pass on the ham bands.

    To start with, Winlink, the system, is not constrained or otherwise regulated by Part 97 rules, or any other FCC rules that I can find, and have repeatedly stated they are not responsible for any violations. It's up to the clients and RMS operators to stay within the rules. Okay so far, but early on there was a full page on the Winlink web site with some interesting interpretations of control operator and why the system was legal on amateur frequencies. Why was that statement even necessary? It will become clear shortly that ARSFI was not proactive in managing the use of their network, and they shouldn't be, since they only provide an internet bridge and server space. I won't get into the
    argument of why Winlink, the system, should be classified as a common carrier internet ISP, that's not relevant to the current discussion. Here's a brief illustration of the amateur service abuse that ARSFI enabled with the Winlink system.

    1. Starting with Winlink 2000 (in 2000) Winlink, the system, was built by boaters, for boaters, with emcomm only a minor afterthought, if at all.
    2. Prior to 2013, that's 13 years for the mathematically challenged, a password was not required to access the Winlink system. Download the software, make up a call and email your brains out. Callsign piracy was rampant, primarily
    the boaters. Recent ARSFI comments also suggest piracy is still a problem.
    3.Sysops and clients were told to turn off what little busy channel detection was available because no one should be on those frequencies anyway, the frequency is published excuse.
    4. Complaints to RMS operators and clients about interference led to turning off CW ID, can't ID them, can't complain. The Winlink CYA ecuse for that? It slows down throughput. ARRL was no help in resolving legitimate, well
    documented complaints. ARRL had adopted the Winlink system as the official ARES digital system of choice on the recommendation of the ARES Committee -- after exhaustive research by a Committee comprised mostly of
    Winlink representatives -- and had zero interest in fixing a problematic system.

    (There's much more if you want to research it)

    Fast forward to March 2019 and the great Winlink, the organization, panic.

    5. Winlink, the organization, thought RM-11831 was all about them and their operation. Remember, they are not regulated by Part 97. Would RM-11831 affect their network or just the modes they elected to use?
    6. Winlink, the organization, sent out mass mailings to various boater and emcomm forums threatening to pull the plug on the US gateways if RM-11831 was passed. Why? I suppose it goes back to the fact that they don't play well
    with others and aren't interested in anything on the bands other than preserving their network. Admit the network transmissions (at the time) were not transparent to over the air listeners and work to find a solution would
    be a reasonable reaction, but that would require cooperation.
    7. Winlink, the organization, opens the Winlink viewer, but failed to clean the database before hand. All the lame excuses about the system and traffic on same went out the window with that move, profanity, business and commercial
    content and a host of other actual Part 97 violations were easily found , and my favorite -- credit card numbers. Complaints from non-US operators about "privacy" got the viewer locked down to only US messages. Certain prepper
    groups were outraged that their "opsec" had been compromised and dropped use of the system. Way too many brain dead clients that "only got licensed for the free email", not hard to find on boating forums.
    8. Forced CW ID applied to the Winlink software. Wonder why now?
    9. ARSFI enforcing a 3rd party State Department Treaty, after being ignored by all parties involved for over 2 decades, greatly inconveniencing a large number of boaters. Why now? The State Department Treaty list is easy to find, it's
    on the ARRL website.
    10. Somewhere in here SCS, the Pactor modem manufacturer developed a decoder for Pactor 3 that would render plain text from some Winlink messages. There was no equivalent decoder made available for the in-house Winlink
    modes of ARDOP and Winmor, or the shiny new VARA modem. SCS promised a Pactor 4 decoder, but to date it isn't available.
    11. Forced "busy channel detect" and a warning screen to alert the clients of prior channel occupancy, and easily overridden with a single mouse click, but not implemented on the RMS side as promised in a posting on the ARRL
    band planning forum. (The RMS software may already have the feature implemented, it's been over a year since the promise was made to do so, but Winlink, the organization, hasn't put out a public statement to that effect or
    corrected the misstatements in FCC filings).
    12. My final rebuttal to their RM-11831 complaints at the FCC is here: reply.pdf It's a long one, sorry, but things needed to be said.

    You have to ask why Winlink, the organization, is trying to clean-up a system that had run out of control for decades and why now? It may be cleaner now than the very recent past but there should be a price paid for all the bad behavior, illegal messages and other violations. Then again, Winlink, the system, falls through the regulatory cracks, so why then worry about the operation of the amateur side of the equation? I suggested it be allowed to run under the same rules as RACES, limited tests, practices, and actual emergencies, but it wasn't well received.

    A note to the emcomm contingent that made it this far, if your group uses Winlink you may want to think about system reliability for something that uses software in a constant state of Beta. Barely week goes by that there isn't some kind of update or 'fix' to the software. Is your go-bag up to date on all the software, or is it safely tucked away in the corner? When a true internet down scenario hits I hope a mic and maybe a key are in your go-bag because Winlink capability will be almost useless. Think about that last statement, who are you going to email and how are they going to get it if they aren't in a position to use the HF RF only capability? Short range VHF and above may be okay for local stuff but......

    Winlink, the organization, may well regret their decision to fight rather than work towards solutions, it's not all about them and the collateral damage may be significant. They may, for instance, have set a precedent with the viewer
    and it could end up being a requirement for all BBS's and store-and-forward operations. Something to think about.
    Last edited: May 2, 2021 at 1:53 AM

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