It’s easy to take e-mail for granted nowadays. Some of us have jobs in which we are bombarded with e-mail all day long, and dashing off an e-mail message to a co-worker in the neighboring cubicle is more convenient than actually speaking to them.
Likewise, many of us carry smartphones now, and e-mail is a flick of the thumb away.
But what happens if the Internet fails and e-mail becomes unavailable? Well naturally ham radio will save the day.
I’d been hearing some of the guys in the club talking about Winlink. I didn’t know much about it, but one of the guys mentioned I would need a SignaLink or something similar. Being a digital modes geek, I indeed have a SignaLink. So last weekend I had some free time on my hands and decided to see what Winlink was all about.
Following one of the excellent guides on the Winlink site, I installed RMS Express and configured it for my FT-817 and the SignaLink (Yes, I was going to attempt this QRP). I composed an e-mail in the client and selected the nearest RMS station I could find, a station in Brunswick, Ga., about 400 kilometers away on 40 meters.
Using audio settings on the SignaLink that I’ve used for PSK and JT65, I managed to connect to the Brunswick RMS on the first shot and the test message to my personal e-mail address appeared to send properly. A quick check of my gmail address showed the message had indeed been delivered, at a whopping 150 bytes per minute (according to the program log).
I dashed off an e-mail to my buddy Ronnie and connected to Brunswick again. I was delighted to find his response waiting for me the next morning at my fresh KK4DSD@winlink.org address!
Overall the software is very easy to get running as long as you follow one of the FAQs on the Winlink site. True to it’s name, the software is Windows-only, although it’s been known to be usable under Linux and OSX via virtual machines or some variant of WINE.
Also, be sure to download the RMS Express package ONLY. Yes, WINMOR is required if you don’t have a hardware packet modem (at a grand per pop, why bother?). I thought I needed to install the WINMOR standalone package, but I didn’t. It’s included with RMS Express.
The best metaphors I can conjure to describe this system to friends is to think of RMS Express as an old-school mail client, which in fact is exactly what it is. WINMOR is akin to the old dial-up networking package that used to be required to make an internet connection. Compose e-mails in RMS, invoke a WINMOR session, and assuming you’ve configured everything properly and selected a legitimate frequency, hit the “start” button and watch the program do its thing. Your computer will signal the RMS station and if you’re heard, handshakes will be exchanged and your station will exchange data with the remote station, which is also computer controlled and connected to the Internet for mail relay.
The FAQ I read noted that when using a SignaLink, your Windows audio should be maxed out, and the TX and RX knobs on the SignaLink should be in the 12 o’clock position. Results may vary, but I found leaving my Windows audio at 50% and the SignaLink knobs around the 9 o’clock positions worked just right. Also, be sure the delay knob is set to minimum.
With the FT-817 on full power, I was seeing about 3 watts out on the meter, with no ALC showing. I’m thinking I’d have faster transfer speeds with the higher power levels of my 100 watt rig, particularly during the noisy conditions on 40 meters last Friday during afternoon storms. But who knows?
Anyway, I’m glad to have a new tool in my radio kit, perhaps placing me one step closer to getting involved in some local EmComm efforts.