Using the Wisconsin Network - Part 10

by Andy Nemec, KB9ALN

In the past editions of "Using the Wisconsin Network", we have devoted a fair amount of space to the operation of "TheNet" Nodes, and how to use them. While this is important to knowing the network, there are other types of stations you may encounter on your travels. We will try to cover most anything you are likely to find, and attempt to give some practical background information for you. We will start with an introduction to one of the more mysterious types of stations you may encounter, the TCP/IP station.

An ever-increasing number of hams are exploring this mode, and chances are you may encounter a station using it. Once we get familiar with it, we will move on to examples of TCP/IP Amateur Radio stations and show you how to use them.

What the heck is TCP/IP, anyway?

TCP/IP stands for Transport Control Protocol / Internet Protocol. I know, that tells you what the letters mean, but just what is it? Well, surprisingly enough, you really don't need to know too much about the terminology to get the idea of what it is basically about. You might remember from one of the earlier editions of this series a discussion of "Protocols". In case you might have forgotten about this, we'll review.

A protocol, in computer terms, is the method or language that computers use to pass information back and forth. A computer can use one or several methods to speak to another computer. The important thing is that the computers must both be speaking the same language at the same time and speed. Most Amateur packet radio stations use a protocol, or specific method to communicate with each other called AX.25. This method of communication was adapted from Ma Bell (AT&T) for use on Amateur radio.

"TheNet" Nodes use a variation of this protocol called "Net/Rom" to exchange information. Although they work OK in Amateur radio, these protocols are not widely used in the rest of the computer world. For example, the Internet, a global network of connected computers. These computers all need a standard set of protocols in order to communicate. The standard set of protocols used is referred to as "TCP/IP". Amateur Radio has adapted TCP/IP protocols, and others, to communicate via packet radio. Amateur Radio TCP/IP Stations are also capable of communicating with the AX.25 protocol. This is the legally recognized protocol for Amateur Radio, so all of the TCP/IP Packets are "Buried" in an AX.25 packet. This also means that someone who only uses AX.25 can communicate with a TCP/IP station (though they may not be able to use all of it's features).


One of the main attractions of using TCP/IP might be already apparent. Because it is possible for the computer to communicate with a world-wide network using TCP/IP, the opportunities become seemingly endless. Stations that are part of a Amateur Radio TCP/IP network have greater flexibility of operating, providing the operator with more than the usual mailbox and keyboard services. The computer becomes an integral part of a packet station with TCP/IP, because the computer is "connected" to another computer. With standard AX.25, TNC's are connected, typing is done, and TNC's are then disconnected. Your computer operates as little more than a "dumb terminal".

Consider what is possible amongst computers using TCP/IP:
-Standard keyboard chats
-Standard "PBBS" type mailbox for AX.25 users
-Automated Mail delivery to other TCP/IP stations, AX.25 mailboxes, and BBS's
-Automated message forwarding
-Access (limited) to a computer's hard drive
-Ability to transfer text and binary files simply and easily (including Wave, GIF, JPG, COM, and EXE
   files, to name a few)
-Ability to test radio paths before using them
-Possibility of receiving special-interest "Newsgroups" by automated mail
-Extensive Remote Sysop-ing of the station
-Possibility of connection to the Internet
-Ability to carry on a multi-station conference discussion
-Possibility of networking computers in your own home, so that you may operate your packet station from
  outside of the shack
-The ability to have a TCP/IP station operate as a Network Node

And that is where most of us will get our first exposure to a TCP/IP station, as a network node. Now that you know a little bit about them, we can devote some space to a discussion of using one of these stations. Look for that in the next edition of "Using the Wisconsin Network".

On to Part 11 -  Using a TCP/IP Station as a Network Node

Back to Part 9  -  A look at TheNet X-1J Nodes

Back to the Using the Wisconsin Network Index  - Choose a different part to view

Back to the WAPR home page  - Look at something else