WAPR News - December 2000

By Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

December is here, and soon the holidays. On behalf of all of the officers of WAPR, allow me to extend warm and happy holiday wishes to everyone. Here's hoping that your holiday celebrations are safe and happy.

After you've gotten through the holidays, we hope you will take the time to attend the WAPR meeting on January 20, 2001 in Pittsville. The meeting will be held at the fire station (at the base of the water tower) in town, and will get under way at 10:00 A.M. After the meeting, we hope you'll join the gang for lunch at one of the local eateries so we can continue our discussion and rag-chewing.

As of yet, we only have one agenda item we have to cover, with more to follow. That's the election of officers, in particular the board position that opened up with the passing of Ron Nelson, N9CFN last summer. As always, we will have open nominations for other positions. We welcome these, as some of the WAPR board members (myself included) have been on the board for a number of years and we are due for new members with fresh ideas.

One item that will doubtless be discussed is how to get the general level of packet operation increased. Someone with a fresh perspective may be able to contribute some new ideas that may help in that regard. So if you have ever found yourself "on the fence", wondering if you should get involved, by all means, attend the meeting and let your views be known. We'll all be interested to hear new ideas, as well as any special packet projects you may be working on. Members and non-members alike will be welcomed, and I hope you can make the meeting. After all, they call it a "meeting". So if you're a new packet operator, or one who has been at it for some time and has been ''lurking" in the background, now is the time to attend this gathering and introduce yourself.

In other news, Joel N9BQM reports that he has not gotten the opportunity to complete all of the repairs to the Rudolph node site, but hope to soon. We'll be sure to discuss this at the meeting, I am sure.

In addition to this, I am sure we will also discuss something that I brought up a few months back, how to deal with increasing speed on our network and LANs, as well as future band planning on both UHF and VHF to accommodate any increased speeds. In order to retain our user base and perhaps even increase it, we really need to think about this and plan for it accordingly. One could argue that this is an ideal time to take on such a discussion, as when packet activity is low, we would be displacing fewer users who have investments in time, energy and money in equipment.

You'll note that this month's accompanying article deals with this very-topic.  It was sparked by a message I saw on the BBS in November, which is a very-good starting point for this discussion. Hope you find it interesting and gets you to thinking.

That'll do it for news this month. As always, I am always looking for packet news to share with our readers. Drop me a note at one of the addresses at the top of this page, and I'll be happy to print it here.

Until next time, 73 from Andy.

A Packet Speed-Up Suggestion by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

While doing my usual packet BBS sysop'ing duties early one morning, I came upon a message that really struck home for me. It got me to thinking and wondering about this gentleman's suggestion and I thought it deserved sharing (in case you have not seen it already). John's observations are definitely food for thought. Here is his message reprinted as it appeared on the BBS's, my comments follow:

From: [email protected]
To: [email protected]
Subject: can we do this?

Greetings,

Thanks for reading this. I know that with the Internet taking over much of the traffic that once pulsed through packet, that the activity of the medium has been slowly dying. We can do something about this people! the magic potion: SPEED! we have refused to try to better ourselves by making 2400 baud as the standard packet speed for VHF/UHF work. While most backbones run at 9600 baud, 2400 baud should require no special mods to use. So why aren't we using it? Maybe there's a reason I'm not aware of that explains, why we are not switching to a higher speed for everyday packet. Is there anyone out there who still feel the spirit deep within, to try to push us up a little. 2400 being twice the rate as our current speed is at least a half compromise to the pitiful 1200 baud rates that drip along today, is there ANYONE out there game to try this out? where is our sense of cutting edge spirit?

73 - John, N1WIL @ K1UGM V WHIT
----

I applaud John's willingness to share his thoughts on the subject and his concern that fueled this message. In the past, I've thought that this would, be a logical step to take and do have some thoughts on this from the perspective of a BBS sysop as well as a packet user.

First off, for some packet operators, John is right -2400 bps is easy for the average user to implement and would also double data throughput, if done correctly. His observation that speed is one reason why people have been leaving packet is only partly correct, I think. It is also the lack of new and interesting things that are done on packet. And a lot of that does relate to speed. I have written about sending web pages over packet radio in this space in the past, and one reason why more people don't do this is because waiting for web pages to arrive at 1200 bps is not much fun. Realistically, we can do anything that is done on the Internet with packet radio - just slower. But this prospect loses it's appeal when you can nap waiting for data to arrive.

Would things get terribly better with 2400 bps as our standard data transmission rate? Yes, and no. Yes because plain text messages would indeed get faster. Reading messages on the local BBS would be faster, and channel capacity would certainly increase proportionately. Would it bring us any new users? Possibly. Would it be a good return on the investment? Maybe, depending on who you are and what you want to do.

For a person who wishes to use plain text as their primary communications mode on packet, yes, it could very well be. If you're a packet operator who wants to send pictures, web pages, sound files, or do any of the other things we can do with digital radio, the doubling of speed may help. But I don't think it's the total solution.

If you're a network node operator and operate more than one node, it may not be worth the expense. After all, this means investing money in perhaps two or more TNCs, only to see a potential doubling of data transfer speed. All of the users on a LAN may find 2400 bps useful and a good step forward; but if there is no network at their disposal, then the "fun factor" drops off considerably.

John is right with his observations that 1200 bps is archaic and slow, and that in order to use 9600 bps, one has to put forth an effort that is reminiscent of a painful tooth extraction to get good results. However, when you look at things realistically, 2400 bps is also archaic and slow. There is no benefit if the TNC and radio combination is not set up correctly - one may not see any increase in data throughput if this is the case. The same is also true of 9600 bps - a poor choice of radio, or one that is not set up correctly can also yield poor data throughput (in some cases not any better than 1200 bps!)

So what is one to do if he or she has the "cutting edge sprit" and does want to enjoy increased speed and the capabilities that come with k? After all, even the wireless Internet companies have trouble guaranteeing good performance and good geographical coverage at high data rates. How can we "lowly amateurs" do the same?

Perhaps we need to change our ways of thinking about packet radio. We have, since the dawn of packet radio, been using a TNC and radio combo connected to a computer running in "terminal mode" as our standard station setup. We have a bunch of boxes lined up on our shelves to do the job, and so far we have not had the best of results. Changing our thinking can not only get us better results, but perhaps tidy up the shack a bit.

A few months back I talked about some amateurs in Green Bay who are using wireless Ethernet cards on 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz experimentally. If you did not have a chance to check out the GBPPR Web Page (www.gbppr.org), you missed something that is very interesting, a cost comparison between wireless Ethernet card installations and a typical 9600 bps packet station (TNC, radio, feedline and antenna). The cost analysis shows that one can get pretty good performance out of a wireless Ethernet card for the same or - less - than the cost of a typical 9600 bps station. These cards can operate on our ham bands as part 15 devices, and can be amplified legally if you are a ham.

So while John makes some very good points concerning the "need for speed", merely doubling the speed will probably not bring us more packet radio operators. It will not get us web-based network applications that we see on the Internet. True, it is a step in the right direction, but I don't think it is the total solution. After all, in order to make the considerable investment in network infrastructure pay off by attracting more users, we need to be able to do the kinds of things that are done on the internet. In short, we need to increase the "fun factor", and wireless Ethernet cards may be one way to do it.

Some may dismiss this idea out of band because it is not "amateur technology". True enough - but when was the last time you hand-built, a synthesized 2-meter radio? The era of "ham invention" may not be over, but the corporate research lab has been responsible for most of the modem-day innovations we see in communications. And we may also gain valuable experience and techniques through, experimentation and implementing such technology - we may be able to "teach the big boys a thing or two". We really needn't feel guilty about this. It's just one more fact of life we have to deal with, perhaps even embrace.

Are you a cutting edge person? Do you want to see packet radio go to the "next level"? Than think about this - and think how you can help your local node operator and others in his or her position make a change to higher speed as well. We can truly have much more fun than we are having now.

That's all for now, until next time, 73 from Andy.

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