Winlink (https://winlink.org) is “a worldwide radio messaging system that uses amateur-band radio frequencies to provide radio interconnection services that include email with attachments, position reporting, weather bulletins, emergency relief communications, and message relay. The system is built and administered by volunteers and administered by the Amateur Radio Safety Foundation Inc., an American charitable entity and 501c(3) non-profit organization.”
Winlink is a powerful tool for communication in emergencies due to its ability to continue functioning during localized Internet outages and, with proper configuration, to operate entirely without access to the Internet. ARES®/RACES of Virginia is increasingly relying on Winlink for digital communications in disaster response. Each Wednesday, a Winlink “net” is conducted to help keep skills sharp. (See http://winlinkwednesday.net)
Local access to Winlink in Central Virginia is provided via the W4UVA-10 (145.510/441.025 MHz) Winlink RMS Gateway at the Amateur Radio Club at the University of Virginia (UVa), located on Observatory Hill (also known as Mt. Jefferson) on the UVa Grounds in Charlottesville; WR4CV-10 (145.070/441.075 MHz) at the Central Virginia Repeater Association (CVRA) site at Wintergreen; and KE4LWT-10 (145.010 MHz) south of Ruckersville.
There are lots of references and how-to’s on how to get connected to Winlink via VHF/UHF radio, so I won’t describe the process in detail here. Take a look at the Winlink Book of Knowledge (https://winlink.org/content/winlink_book_knowledge) for authoritative information. A quick search on YouTube will also produce a wealth of information, videos such as the collection created by K4REF (https://www.youtube.com/user/K4REF) for Middle East Tennessee ARES®, and the presentation by our very own Greg KW6GB (founder of the Virginia Winlink Net) at https://youtu.be/UTx9pY1Akl8. For VARA FM setup, look at https://winlink.org/sites/default/files/RMSE_FORMS/vara_fm_for_winlink_with_signalink_on_windows_v4_0.pdf.
Give Winlink a try and send a test message to my Winlink address, KQ9P.
Software vs. Hardware TNC
I will offer my opinion on hardware vs. software TNCs (terminal node controllers, or modems). The hardware TNCs available to amateur radio, including most of the “new” TNCs, are based on AX.25 chips that haven’t changed for decades. They work the way they always did, which is just OK.
Software TNCs, on the other hand, are not constrained by the expense of designing and fabricating new chips. Even for straight AX.25, software TNCs like Direwolf (https://github.com/wb2osz/direwolf) and Soundmodem (http://uz7.ho.ua/packetradio.htm) outperform hardware TNCs by a significant margin, pulling packets out of the noise and avoiding retransmits. Both Direwolf and Soundmodem implement FX.25, a backward-compatible extension to AX.25 that adds a Forward Error Correction (FEC) wrapper around a standard AX.25 packet. FX.25 eliminates most retransmits, the Achilles heel of AX.25.
Add to the picture new digital modes such as VARA and VARA FM (https://rosmodem.wordpress.com) and doing Winlink through a soundcard interface instead of a hardware TNC is a slam dunk!
So, resist the temptation to drag out that crufty old KPC-3 and try one of the modern software TNCs.