Sunday, March 3, 2013

Packet Radio

In addition to the EMP Radio Box, I've been trying to setup a Packet Radio system. There are several operators in Buncombe County ARES that are attempting to bring packet back to life in the county for emergency communications and for communication alternatives and redundancy.

I've been able to communicate a little bit with the existing packet setup that I have, old Dell laptop running XP, a Signalink USB soundcard TNC and the Yaesu 857D. This has proved to be less than idea as it ties up my radio for other things and as such the packet station is not on 24 hours a day. Also with the Signalink USB there is no mailbox options, so unless you are there in front of the computer there is no real way to leave a message. Which is not practical for me as I am working as much as 12 hours a day or off doing something else.

Having seen Carl's - N4AA Packet setup I decided that if I am going to do Packet seriously it needs to be its own independent unit that can function with or without an operator. That meant some serious upgrading. While I don't regret buying the Signalink USB, it will still be used for HF, I think that initially it probably would have been less frustrating to have started with a hardware TNC.

So over the summer I've pieced together a better packet station, getting one piece at a time as I could afford it. I was lucky to find a Kantronics 1200+ used on ebay for $100. I got that it powers on and that is as far as I could test it for now. Early September 2012, I was able to get an amazing deal on a Panasonic Toughbook CF-29 (touchscreen, back light keyboard, in near mint condition) for $173. I know some will say that I should have just used the Dell, well the Dell has some issues and the big advantage to the Toughbook is that it has a dedicated DB9 serial port on the back of it which makes connecting to the TNC simple. And I do like simple when things are in a state of chaos. Also have gotten the TNC to radio cable and will have the TNC to computer cable sometime in the next week. That only left the radio. Remember that liking things to be simply when dealing with high stress? I spent a lot of time deciding on a radio that would fit the bill of making things simple, is reliable, and easy to use. Ultimately I kept coming back to the same radio over and over which is the Yaseu 7900R. It has a dedicated data port on the back for packet which is awesome because it works independent of the volume knob and it is plug and go with 1 connection. The radio also has a huge energy saving feature which is a bonus if you find yourself running on battery power. I have this same radio in my 4 Runner and have used it at various races this past year with zero issues with battery drain. And because I am familiar with the radio I know first hand it is easy to program in the field and easy to use. So today I bought another Yaseu 7900R for $301 including shipping.

Overall I think that it will prove to be a good decision and investment to finally have the packet independent freeing up the Yaesu 857D for other uses. One use is for HF digital modes with the Signalink and Dell. The next stage of the packet system will be setting up backup power. My ultimate goal will be to have a 1000 amp hour emergency power reserve, in which I can run both the packet station and the all band radio from in the event of an extend power outage. The recharging will be done via one or more solar panels. This will provide a charging means without the need of commercial power. Another Powergate PF40S like the one used in the EMP radio will be added into the the power system, allowing the use of commercial power and battery power in reserve.

Once the packet station is setup and working properly I'll get some photos of it and as the the power system is being built I will get some photos of that as well.

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