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HF E Mail System

The first of the articles pulled from the forum site.

These articles are posted on the forum where they can be discussed but as the forum is not ideal for data retrieval and the articles quickly get lost I am going through the forum and posting any that need to be available on here.

So, yes. There is an email system that can operate independent of that information super-highway that we call “the internet”, using an HF radio of your choice, and a sound card interface. This was the idea when the system was first designed (it’s been improved upon, and we’ll get into that a bit later). First, I will explain how it works, and then I will provide installation and operation instructions.

So, buckle-in, this is going to be a MONSTER post!

Oh, and before we go any further, just know that a lot of HF hams out there HATE people who are using this system. Oh well. They’ll get over it.

Here’s How it Works

There are 5 “main hubs” located around the world. Those hubs are:
San Diego, CA
Brentwood, TN
Halifax, England
Vienna, Austria
Perth, Australia
All 5 hubs are able to communicate digitally with each other on HF. Under ideal conditions, you should be able to establish a connection directly to one of those hubs. When you send an email while connected to one of the hubs, the hub will accept it, store it, and then forward it to the other 4 hubs as well, so that your recipient can access the incoming email on any of the hubs around the world.

To do this, you will use an email client, which will handle all of this for you, automatically. The client interfaces with your radio, in the same way that, FLDIGI does, for example. The difference is, the client will be sending all kinds of commands to your radio without you needing to get involved. It works like Outlook. Anyway, back to how the system works. . .

There are also a kazillion relay stations that are a part of this network, for those who cannot get a direct connection to a hub. This, of course, might be simply due to too much traffic, and not necessarily a propagation issue (it is estimated that there are over 20,000 users world-wide at the moment). Anyhow, the point is, as long as you can send and receive email from a hub or a relay station, then you are in business! They will process the flow of the message to the recipient for you!

When this system was first introduced, it relied exclusively on PACTOR modems to send and receive data. However, those things aren’t cheap, and so a sound card version was developed so that no special modems are needed. If you do have a PACTOR modem, you can still use it, though. In fact, more relay stations are still using that instead of the sound card (or WINMOR) way of doing it. They say PACTOR is a bit faster. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not worth spending over $1k for a PACTOR modem. I would need a better reason than that.

Oh, did I mention that it can also work P2P?

Download and Installation

Now, I know what you’re thinking – you can just download and install it. And, you’re partly right. But starting a few weeks ago, they started a new requirement that you create an account with them, and this process is kinda weird. So calm down and follow these steps to the “T”:

STEP 1: Download RMS Express

RMS Express is the actual client program that you will use. It’s a lot like Outlook, but with some extra stuff that allows communication with your radio. As with everything else, download it, unzip it, and install it. Then, run it.

STEP 2: Setting it Up (The Client Itself)

I think the new version has a wizard of some kind that helps you to set up your initial (basic) settings, such as your ham radio call sign, grid location, etc. Here is a .pdf file from MARS that has a setup procedure, as well as some other stuff that you don’t really need. This part isn’t too difficult.

Make sure that when you enter in your call sign, you add a password. In the past, this was optional. In the next few weeks, the system will not work for you, unless you are registered. This can be any password you want.

STEP 3: Registration

Right now, you are using this client in the “internet mode”, because you haven’t set up your radio settings yet. In this respect, it functions exactly like Outlook. Before you create an account, you will need to send an email to yourself – preferably, your normal email address. Remember, you should have entered in a password of your choosing during your setup process (step 2).

Click the first icon in the upper left corner (New Message), and fill in the “To” and “Subject” boxes, and a test message of some sort. Then, press “Post to Outbox”. It will take you back to the main screen. Then, click “Open Session” at the top center, and a new box will open, showing you the dialog of what is happening as the message is being sent. Once it’s finished, you may simply close that box.

(Note: To just check your email in the future, all you have to do is click the “Open Session” button. If there is any new mail for you, it will be downloaded during this process, and posted to your inbox.)

Go to your other email account, and make sure the message went through. If it did, then you may finally register. Go to the Winlink website, and enter in your call sign in the lower box. Click the “Send my Password” box. Congratulations, you are registered.

Radio Configuration

First, the bad news: This is probably going to be a bitch. Take a deep breath and stay with me.
The good news? You only have to do it once.

If you aren’t already using digital modes, and have never interfaced your computer and radio together, you need to stop what you are doing and make that happen. Get FLDIGI and follow their instructions. If you are already using digital modes, and you know what COM ports your radio is using, then you may proceed.

So, you already sent out an email using the “internet mode” of this client. By the way, that is called “Telnet WL2K”. In your client, toward the top, you will see that in a drop-down box. This drop-down box is actually all of the different methods that you can use to communicate with a hub or relay station. They aren’t self-explanitory, but hey – you’re only interested in “Winmor WL2K” right now. So find that in the drop-down box, and select it.

Click “Open Session”.

You’ll notice immediately that something different happened. You get two pop-up boxes. In the left box, you will see what appears to be a waterfall meter and some crosshairs. Ignore that box. In the other box, you will see that looks like a large text field area. This is the box we will be working with.

See the “Setup” menu toward the top? Go ahead. You know what to do. And then, select “Radio Setup” from the drop menu. Hopefully, your radio is somewhere in the list. It should be – it’s a big ass list. Setup your COM ports and baud rates that you use with your other programs. Once everything is right, click “Update”. It will let you know if the settings are right or wrong.

Next, you will need to get a list of relay stations and hubs and such, to connect to. As long as you aren’t moving around and you live in one place, you should only need to do this once as well. Click on “Channel Selection” at the top, and a new box will pop up. Click on “Update Table via Internet”. This is where the cool stuff starts to happen.

When you did your client setup, you entered in your grid locator. RMS Express takes that information and computes propagation probability for you. So, the list of stations that you see are arranged in order from most likely to least likely to work. So, double-click on the first station. It is now the station that you will attempt to communicate with. And, your radio should have changed frequency as needed.

You may, or may not hear traffic. If you do, then you should wait to send/receive email. Now is a good time for you to close out those two boxes, compose an email, and post it to your outbox. Click on “Open Session” once more, and if everything is correct and you get no error popups, you may click “Start” located toward the top of the larger window (the one you were working with earlier).

Sit back, and watch the process. It’s kinda slow, but it’s interesting and reliable. There you have it – email without internet. I know, some pictures would have been nice, so, if there’s something you don’t understand, just post a comment on the link below, and I’ll help you out.

If you want to see the original article and get involved in the discussion on the forum click here.

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