WAPR News - July 1999

Hello, and hope you enjoy your July 4th holiday.  This is a busy time of year to hams - first Field Day, then the 4th of, July.

Hope you included packet radio in your Field Day operations this year. Lately it seems that packet radio has been relegated to APRS use. Of course APRS has it's place in ham radio operating but that is not all that can be done with packet radio.

We seem to forget that these days most packet radio operation seems to involve a little BBS operation, a lot of APRS operation, and a smattering of  "miscellaneous" uses. We could be doing a lot more with packet radio and there are some people that are pushing the boundaries. In our companion article this month we'll explore an alternative to our current packet radio system.

However, first we will talk about what we have now. Last month I mentioned that our WAPR Chairman Joel. N9BQM suggests a  new statewide flood-message designator to replace the familiar "RTWIS" in order to conform to the rest of the packet community. Joel suggests we use "ALLWI"  I have heard no comments on this pro or con, so I suspect that few would object to this change.

This change would mostly require a change of habit, and a change of BBS operator's forwarding rules. If you operate a BBS, please include this change in your forwarding files. BBS users may wish to refrain from this until they know their local BBS will accept this change. If you have any doubt that your local BBS will accept this forwarding designator, drop a note to your local operator and ask. If he or she does not know about this change drop a note to me and I will mail them a copy of last month's. WAPR news column.

Now on to another topic - promoting packet radio. After reading the July issue of CQ-VHF I am a little encouraged at what I saw in Don Rotolo's "Digital Data Link" column. He tells us of a very heartening story - the Phoenix rising: from the ashes, in the form of NEDA. The North last Digital Association. Unbeknownst to a lot of folks. NEDA was near dissolution as recently as a few months ago. Well, it appears that things are turning around for this group and none too soon.

Why do I bring this up? NEDA is an important organization, one whose recommendations concerning node operation have been widely adopted in this county and others. NEDA members are extensively involved in network experimentation, exploring new networking methods and bringing them to the packet forefront. One of the biggest promoters of TheNet X-1 nodes has been NEDA, and their efforts in educating the packet community on it's use have been most helpful. In short. NEDA has done a lot in moving packet radio forward. If NEDA were not around, I suspect that it would be all more difficult to use new packet networking methods. Mostly because we would have a tough time finding the helpful information that NEDA brings us.

While things are better at NEDA there is still a bit more to do. Which is the same situation that WAPR is in. While we exist, there is little activity that can he called "lively'' in the organisation. I feel that to Wisconsin packet operators, WAPR is just as important as NEDA is, perhaps more so. This is why the stagnation in WAPR is especially important to correct. WAPR does important work, coordinating packet operating frequencies, promoting standards, encouraging network expansion. While our current state is not what most would consider lively and vibrant. this is not the ''fault" of anyone. It is more a symptomatic of the stagnation in the packet community. So what can be done?

While I would like to point to someone else as the solution to this problem, we all know that this is too convenient.  To overcome the stagnation in packer radio, it will require effort from us Which is what turned NEDA around.

This means not so much money, which helps, but time and commitment. The time to put on packet demonstrations, the time to talk to radio clubs, the commitment to regularly show others the things that packet radio can do. Have you had guests in your shack lately?  Have you shown them your packet station? Does your club sponsor a packet node or is it "packet -active" in some other way?  If not, perhaps it's time for the clubs general population to become educated about packet radio. Most clubs would love love to have someone make a presentation at a club meeting. It helps to break up a routine by presenting something different. While you may not be a powerful public speaker, most people can put on an effective demonstration without a great deal of trouble. And you may well get you another packet operator or two on the local scene.

And white you are at it.. What about WAPR? We are entering a new membership year and would love to see some renewed participation by packet operators.. Not only membership, but dialogue, participating as an officer and helping to add a new viewpoint to WAPR's board of directors. There's a membership form on this page to help get the ball rolling.

In conjunction with our new membership year soon we will have out annual WAPR meeting.  This meeting is where we elect officers and get our business for the year "squared away.'' As of this writing, I do not have the meeting date and details confirmed.  However we will be completing the arrangements soon and will send out flood messages through the BBS network as soon as the arrangements are complete.  So do check your local BBS for that message.

And that is all the news I have for this month.  Until next time, 73 from Andy

Toward a Faster Packet Radio Network by Andy Nemec, KB9AI.N

I here has been a lot of discussion lately about the future of packet radio, and a lot of the talk is not too nice to hear.  Some say that packet radio has outlived it's usefulness, and that it has been virtually replaced by the Internet.  This is only partly true - only in user numbers has the Internet "replaced" packet radio. In some cases however, this is nowhere near true. Why? Because of the fact that packet is radio based, it offers some unique capabilities.  Emergency Operating is one area that comes to mind.

While you do hear of a few high-profile cases where the internet was involved in emergency operations, it is, more often than not a non-contributor in these situations. This is simply because the telephone system is very vulnerable to failure when disaster strikes. In addition to the phone system the internet itself is vulnerable in disaster scenarios. There are parts of the country where internet network linkages are not redundant and a disaster could close off access in spite of a working phone system.

Which makes packet radio a very useful and necessary thing. However, our current packet radio system is so slow that we are often not able to fully meet the demands of Emergency Management personnel. We can do plain ASCII text all right, but more complex information transfer is not practical.  Even if we could send information faster our system is non-standard.

While uniqueness can be an asset, in this case it is a liability. On the internet, you can send E-Mail with attachments, not so in packet. File transfers are easy and possible on the internet. While file transfers are possible on packet radio, it is hardly easy in most cases.  When all is said and done, we can't offer the flexibility and ease-of-use that the internet can offer. All of that can change, however. It is simply up to us to find out how to do it. In this article I'll show you one way that can come about.

From Speed Bump to Speed Jump

It was mentioned before, one of the most critical needs in the packet network is speed. Right now out data speeds seems to have hiy the brakes at about 960 bps.  This is fine for local text messaging, but nowhere near fast enough to transfer big files, or go a long distance through a network. There is good reason for this speed bump - radios that can operate at higher speeds than this can't be bought "off the shelf." Existing commercial radios need to be modified to go faster than this, and seem to hit a limit of about 19.2 Kbps Again, fast, but not fast enough. Any radio that can do faster than this has to be built from scratch, something that not everyone has the time and inclination to do.

So this means that often, even a good investment in money will not guarantee a fast packet connection So we have to look at another way to do what we want to do. There is hope, and it is not nearly as expensive as you might think.  And it is not a new idea, but the match of technology has made it more practical/

What is this idea? As you may know, a few years ago the computer industry introduced "Wireless Network Cards". The units operate either on the 900 MHz or 2.4 GHz bands. They are "Part 15" devices, no license is needed to use them. They operate using spread spectrum, and are capable of data rates of 2 Mbps.

Notice what bands they operate in - both are ham hands shared with other services. In addition, they are intended to operate with standard internet client programs, like Netscape and your mailer program.


These cards, as was said before, do not require a license. They operate at minimal power and are intended to operate over short distances. They plug, into standard ISA and PCMCIA slots, depending on the make and model. Most were produced by AT&T, NCR, and Lucent Technologies. Because they' have been out for a few years, we are starting to see these show up on the used market and at reasonable prices, too!


There area couple of legal considerations that need to be taken into account with these " wavelan" cards, however.

First, these units use Spread Spectrum technology We are permitted the use of Spread Spectrum in Amateur Radio, but are limited to two types and only 3 spread codes. This makes it harder for us to use them outside of the Part 15 limitations.

This means that it will require some changes in the units themselves, or the rules that govern the Amateur Service before we can utilize them at higher power levels.

Another "fly in the ointment" is the protocol used. This may be a bit easier to overcome. Currently the FCC recognizes a few digital protocols as being legal in the amateur service. However, there is a little bit of confusion m the amateur community as to what it takes to legally use another protocol. Many hams forget that we are allowed to experiment with digital protocols, provided that we make the details of the protocol operation public. This means that the FCC has to be informed about any experimental protocol, with technical details provided as to how to decode and monitor it.

However, these hurdles can be overcome. Enterprising software engineers can modify the spread code to accommodate our 3 codes, or the FCC can be petitioned to permit new codes. Petitioning the FCC to permit this may not be as hard as you think. These wireless ether net cards are common devices, and therefore, the FCC is familiar with them. Consequently, they may be persuaded to change the rules to allow something that is commercially standard.

Down the Road:

Now that the first part of this proposal is known; we can move on to the second part.  Part 15 devices will provide limited range, but can't complete a network. You need more power to do that, and another market-driven solution can be employed here.

Cell phones have been with us for a while now, and we are starting to see a lot of "junkers"' out there (especially the older "bag phone" types). These units will go onto the 902-928 MHz band with little or no modification.

If we marry a "wavelan" wireless ethernet card to one of these amplifiers, then we have the capability of providing a 2 Mbps data link over a pretty healthy distance. Technically this should not be too hard.  Although there are some special considerations that make it more suited as a project for skilled VHF/UHF home-brewers. Once a set procedure is known to modify these units, there should be not too much that can't be done by your average ham.


There are not too many barriers to this besides time and effort. Cost should not be too high, if you spend some time looking.

For example, you can often find old cell-phones at hamfests Old wavelan cards can occasionally be found there, but the best source may be an Information services department of a large corporation. They do upgrade their systems from time to time, and you can often find these cards on their way to, the dumpster. A lot of these Information Systems people hang out with people that do the same work, so if one does not throw of away such-units, one of their friends may. Overcoming this barrier may be easier than you think

Aside from the legal challenges that we may encounter, one of the biggest barriers is our own resistance to do something different. To those who don't want to change the system, I say that we must change, to make progress. Our familiar modes of operation will have to adapt or be replaced. After all, we will be operating with internet systems, so our familiar AX.25 text-based system will also have to evolve. For example, BBS's may become web-based rather than text-based. And knowing what node will get you where may well turn into a thing of the past - this type of network would utilize internet networking methods. Which means that much more of what we do will become "automatic."


Packet radio for any length of tune that the methods and processes we have been using have pretty much hit their limit. So, it may well be time to do something different. To those who say that this is not a true "ham solution", I say that this is a non issue.  Hams modify commerical radios for amateur, use all of the time. Our current AX. 25 protocol was developed from an existing protocol: X 25. This protocol was invented by the Bell Laboratories and adapted for amateur use.  Just like so much of the technology we use.

So, what is stopping us?  As soon as possible, we will be experimenting with these device to see How well they can do what they do When 1 have more information to pass along, you will see it here.  If you have more information concerning these units, by all means, send it to me. If you find yourself experimenting with these units, let me know I will publish the info here for all to see. So if you are inclined, give it a try.

And that is all I have this time out. Until next time. 73 from Andy

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