Project:Packet Radio

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Several of us on the Amateur Radio IRC channel expressed an interest in setting up and managing a packet network for London and a BBS on that network.


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.

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 for each node that is on and unattended.

Who is involved?

We chat a lot on #lhs-radio on Freenode.

Next meeting

Tuesday 20th March 2018 at 18:30. This is after the end of the hackspace lease, and will likely be in a pub somewhere nearby. Please check back here before you head out to make sure the meeting is still on.

How to get started

(please add to this section with specific help when you work it out yourself)

Get a TNC and connect it to your computer and radio.

You may already have a TNC in your radio. APRS-equipped radios like the Kenwood TM-D710, TH-D74A, TH-D72A, TH-D7A and even earlier models have internal KISS TNCs. The AX.25 support in the Linux kernel via kissattach then enables you to connect to other packet nodes, use BBSs and so on. The PicoAPRS, a 50g dedicated APRS transceiver, also has a KISS TNC mode.

You can also use your sound card as the modem part of the packet radio TNC, with your computer doing all the processing in the CPU. For this you need the soundmodem driver.

A more plug-and-play way to get going is to borrow a TNC from the TNC pool. You can then hook it up to your computer and radio and run a terminal emulator like minicom to send commands to the TNC.

Connect to an existing node

While its likely that there are packet users around repeating packets, GB7CIP is a well-connected packet radio node listening in Caterham, Surrey. Several of us have been connecting to it and its BBS and learning the ropes.

There was a node in Amersham, GB7IPF, but that's now IP-only.

You can also join in by connecting over IP, that is, if you have a UK amateur radio licence. You need to telnet 6300 to access the BBS. You can register from there.

Ideas for other next steps

  • There's a VHF Tait 8110 in the shack that would make a nice Packet / APRS radio
  • Meeting in the hackspace, 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.


  • 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.
  • G1NNA's stuff and G8BPQ's stuff.