Back in the 80s and 90s, packet radio linked amateur radio stations together. In fact, it goes back even further than this — the use of TCP/IP on amateur radio preceded the appearance of the public Internet. Anyway, whereas at the time most people were getting their data using modems and telephone lines, radio amateurs were experimenting with terminal node controllers (TNCs) and radio waves.
The TNC takes a chunk of data, splits it into packets, and sends it over VHF/UHF, and a TNC on the other end decodes, error-corrects and delivers it. TNCs are also digipeaters, repeating traffic for a further-flung station. An adaptation of the AX.25 protocol is used to handle many TNCs using one frequency. The result is an error-corrected, transparent and automatic network. Such networks are still in use; APRS, a protocol to share tactical information and short messages, is built on top of packet.
Some TNCs had a feature whereby you could leave messages for their owners. Bulletin board software began to develop partly out of this, allowing one-to-one message exchange and posting on forums, real-time chat, distributing news and data, and whatever the operators of the BBS want to offer. The scene may be quieter, but it isn’t dead. Ten or so packet BBSs still exist in the UK.
Several of us on the Amateur Radio IRC channel expressed an interest in setting up and managing a BBS, perhaps even on a local packet network. We’ve been talking about what other fun features beyond message passing we could implement, like Richard Osgood's BBS that allows users to play Zork. We might be able to reach quite a lot of people from a central London location. However, we’d need somewhere with decent coverage and we’d also need a full license to run an unattended node. Furthermore, to repeat or rebroadcast other peoples’ messages we’d need a Notice of Variation.
Who has shown interest?
We chat a lot on #lhs-radio on Freenode.
'Packet Hack-It' meeting
If people can make it, let's aim to meet at the Hackspace just before the weekly open evening at 18:30 on Tuesday 6th February 2018. We can work out what we all know and what we need to know, look that stuff up and generally educate each other in the ways of packet. We could even start to follow the Zork instructions.
If that's a bad time for people, we'll change the date, so please check back here before the meeting to avoid a wasted journey.
Ideas for next steps
- We could try to set up a small packet network.
- Rawles has an AEA PK-232 (untested), which can operate in KISS mode.
- There's a VHF Tait 8110 in the shack that would make a nice Packet / APRS radio
- BBS lists here and here.
- The Skywaves, including some stuff on AMPRnet.
- Baldrick introduced us to TARPN, a project to encourage builders to build the largest amateur radio packet network that they can. The TARPN is based on G8BPQ nodes running on a Raspberry Pi computer with outboard TNCs or TNC emulators.