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The WL2K System

Winlink 2000 (WL2K) is a worldwide radio messaging system that takes advantage of the Internet where possible, and recently added a hybrid aspect where it operates in a Radio Only mode. It does this in order to allow the end-user more radio communication space in the crowded spectrum. Winlink 2000 has an interesting history that may be worth reviewing. Currently, there are more than 15,000 radio users on all the classes of users and approximately 100,000 Internet recipients. Monthly traffic averages over 150,000 messages or 280,000 minutes. Each message has an average duration of approximately 3.4 minutes and each message averages approximately 3,200 bytes. The Pactor 1, 2, 3, and 4 protocols are used on HF, and AX.25 Packet, D-Star and 802.11 are used on VHF/UHF.

Growth of the system is dependent on the various classes of users, including normal Amateur use, emergency communications organizations such as the ARRL ARESĀ® and RACES, the UK Cadet forces, the three MARS branches, CFARS, and others. Most recently there has been an increasing interest in emergency communications, and the Winlink 2000 development team has responded by adding features and functions that make the system more reliable, flexible and redundant. The role of Winlink 2000 in emergency communications is to supplement existing methodologies to add another tool in the toolkit of the volunteer services deploying emergency communications in their communities.

Winlink 2000 has been assisting the maritime community, NOAA, the United Nations, the US. Coast Guard and other agencies for over 6 years now. Only recently has it been brought to the attention of the greater emergency communications community due to recent domestic disasters.

The Winlink 2000 system is a "star" based network containing 5 mirror image, redundant COMMON MESSAGE SERVERS (CMS), one in Halifax, Nova Scotia, one in San Diego, Calfornia, one in Brentwood, Tennesse, one in Perth, Australia, and since October 2008, one in Vienna, EU. These insure that the system will remain in operation should any chunk of the Internet become inoperative. Each Radio Message Server node (RMS) is tied together as would be the ends of a spoke on a wheel with the hubbing being done by the Common Message Servers. Traffic goes in and out between the CMS and the Internet email recipient, and between the end users and the Radio Message Server gateways. Multiple Radio-to-Radio addresses may be mixed with radio-to-internet e-mail addresses, allowing complete flexibility. Any one of these CMS's is capable of handling current global traffic on its own.

Because Winlink 2000 uses de facto e-mail (IETF RFC 2821) as its format, it provides direct Radio users and Internet third-party users seamless, transparent email with attachments of reasonable size without any additional stress or learning curve. This allows any mobile or portable operation to interface into the Internet e-mail system from virtually anywhere in the World over the various separate classes of users such as Army MARS, CFARS, or the Ham Radio Amateur service. Each class of service is totally separated from the next so that boundaries and purposes are not mixed. Army MARS only sees Army MARS stations and users, while the Ham Radio stations only sees Ham Radio Amateur users.

Each Radio Message Server gateway is a mirror image of the next, so it does not matter which station is used. They all look the same. Each can provide over 700 text-based or graphic Weather products, and each can relay the user's position to a WEB based view of reporting users. This keeps family, friends or, in a disaster, tactical positions in view. The views can zoom to the street level via a standard street map, a satellite view or a mixture of both.

With the advent of the new and enhanced RMS (Radio Message Server) software, and requirements for message handling imposed by MARS, ARES, and VHF/UHF backbone packet networks, there have been a number of significant changes in the way Winlink 2000 (WL2K) accepts and routes messages. Unlike the outgoing PMBOs, the RMS systems provide a direct real-time gateway to the Common Message Server (CMS) system. This does provide a marked improvement on delivery time, the reduction of duplicated messages, a reduction of maintenance headaches for the developers, and an overall improvement in reliability and efficiency. Existing PMBOs are being phased out and replaced with RMS Pactor and RMS Packet / Relay ports.


This new model for WL2K is one of multiple common message servers for redundancy and reliability and individual remote radio channel servers providing direct access to any of the common message servers. This architecture will greatly simplify the installation and maintenance of what is now a PMBO site and will eliminate an extra level of connectivity now required for connections via Telpac. It also eliminates the need for NO-IP registration for a remote site except where a sysop needs remote access to his site for system management (Remote terminal services, PC Anywhere, or similar access program).

This architecture will also have significant benefits to the individual user. Message delivery will be faster since messages will be immediately accessible to the user when they arrive at the CMS sites without waiting for the polling cycle from a PMBO. The chance of a duplicate message is reduced since there is less chance of a PMBO missing a delivery notice and updating a local database. The chance of an outgoing message becoming orphaned at a PMBO site when the PMBO has lost connection to Internet is eliminated.

The CMS sites provide the telnet service that is now provided by the individual PMBO sites. This will provide for continued support of non-RF access for message exchange, existing Telpac sites, and third-party access for services such as ALE networks.

For more information, links, listings and maps of the Winlink 2000 system, http://www.winlink.org/

The WL2K site is being updated - particularly the listings of RMS stations, so check often for updated information.


February 15, 2016  
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