ARSFI (Winlink) Responds to the Rappaport Campaign

December 7, 2018

The Amateur Radio Safety Foundation Inc – AKA the Winlink leadership – recently filed their response to the ongoing Festival de FUD 2018 regarding RM-11708.

ARSFI Board Files FCC Response to Rappaport Campaign

While I don’t necessary agree with everything they offer up, it is a good read if you are actually open minded and pursuing More Facts Less FUD.

While it is shameful that this well intended NPRM has resulted in so much FUD and mudslinging, I am not surprised given how far our society has degenerated into perpetual adolescence lately.  Hey, it is what it is. As I told someone the other day “I can’t wait to get back to eastern 7-land and spend the upcoming holidays where people are generally so much happier and relaxed.”

While they may not matter much at this point (if they ever did LOL) I filed my brief comments on the FCC ECFS system earlier today. In summary my personal stance is expressed by my filed comment below:

I support the removal of symbol rate restrictions on the amateur bands. The current symbol rate restrictions are clearly an impediment to the purposes laid out in rule 97.1. Carefully considered changes will allow the Amateur Radio Service to thrive going forward into an increasingly digital future, facilitate more effective emergency communications, and bring the Part 97 rules more in line with our neighboring countries. Thank you for your time and consideration. WA4ZKO”

Yes I can be brief. LOL

FWIW, scuttlebutt today is this proposal is moving forward and some rather simple rule changes are coming. Some will soon be happy, some will be unhappy, the sun will continue to rise and set, and the bands will survive just fine. In a decade or two we will be looking back at this mess laughing and wondering why it had to be such a big deal.

Thus this will be my final blog posting on this topic till we get something noteworthy out of the ARRL or the FCC. While I do intend to use some holiday downtime to catch up on some ham radio stuff, I’m not going to spend it dealing with the FUDfest that this well intended proposal has become LOL.

Emails? Sorry, I only respond to those I know or are local stakeholders, otherwise the ham radio inbox would become a full time job and I’m not retired.

 

WA4ZKO

 

 

 

 

 


FCC NPRM 16-239, Pactor 4, National Security Risks (cough) and the Rappaport (N9NB) Story

November 28, 2018

Last Updated:  12/03/2018

There is considerable ongoing chatter out there regarding the FCC NPRM Docket 16-239 and some questions regarding Pactor 4 and B2 compression legality.  The recent “Rappaport Suggests National Security Risks with Amateur Radio Violations” article in Mission Critical Communications has prompted more attention even if some of it is laughable.

It looks like the FCC recently asked some interesting questions in a good read here (PDF). Peter (DL6MAA) did a good job of answering their request and made some noteworthy points. Still this seems to have alarmed some Pactor folks about the future of Pactor 3 and 4. IMHO don’t be alarmed, this looks like the FCC is just doing some fact gathering versus accepting the FUD out there at face value. That is a good thing.

It is also interesting what the FCC didn’t ask about.

 

Short version of this rant for those worried about Pactor or Winlink being banned? Don’t worry, no matter how much certain folks may dislike it, neither Pactor or Winlink are going away. Pactor 1-4 protocols are documented. Pactor 1-4 connections can be monitored. Compression of data on a link does not equal encryption. I suspect the FCC will soon “explain” this to certain crowd once they sort through all the FUD and get the facts sorted out. Plus there is nothing stopping the FCC from “adjusting” the rules to deal with gray areas.

 

Moving on to the long version….okay very long version 😉

Note that this post started out as commentary on a handful of common questions, myths, misrepresentations, and an occasional good question, etc etc regarding this NPRM.  It has grown into a mini novel that I keep adding to it as time allows. Yes it could be written and organized better. I don’t proclaim to be a great writer and frankly you’re getting exactly what you paid for 😉 Take a patience pill and deal with it or move on.

Also note that I am not a lawyer nor do I play one on TV.

 

Since so much uninformed commentary surrounds this NPRM, here are a few pieces of mandatory reading. Mandatory reading if you wish to be informed enough to have a useful opinion versus just adding to the noise floor:

The ARRL’s original petition for rule making is here. This is what started the process along several years back. They fixed a mistake in the original filing with an errata here. You have to read and understand both of these filings. Too many latched onto that mistake (fixed) and it’s behind a lot of the unproductive garbage in the NPRM comments.

Then ARRL CEO David Sumner’s “It Seems To Us” column in the Sept 2013 QST Magazine.

The ARRL “FAQ” on RM-11708 is here.

The NPRM itself is here.

DL6MAA’s (SCS engineer) response to the FCC is here.

Read the official filings, not copies posted elsewhere. Go to the official source, get the full context, and think for yourself versus letting the alarmists push your buttons.

More reading:

The Pactor 2 Protocol document (8 page PDF) here.

The Pactor 3 Protocol document (11 page PDF) here.  Good read for a digital ham.

The Pactor 4 Protocol document (42 page PDF) here.  Another good read for a digital ham.

 

FACT:  The Pactor modes (1-4) can be monitored by anyone with an appropriate receiver and modem. There is also software available for monitoring Pactor. I’m not aware of anything stopping folks from writing more robust monitoring tools. The protocol’s technical characteristics are documented.

KEY POINT:  Where so many tend to get off track here is associating the B2F transfer protocol used by Winlink and other message forwarding systems as a part of Pactor. It is not part of Pactor, it is used by some applications that run on top of Pactor, HF Packet, Robust Packet, VHF/UHF Packet, and a growing list of soundcard modem based modes.

From the FCC letter to SCS it appears they are just doing due diligence on a mode they have recently issued temporary waivers for. The focus appears to be on confirming compliance with this portion of rule 97.309(a):

(4) An amateur station transmitting a RTTY or data emission using a digital code specified in this paragraph may use any technique whose technical characteristics have been documented publicly, such as CLOVER, G-TOR, or PacTOR, for the purpose of facilitating communications.

SCS provided links to detailed documentation that should more than suffice. While not specifically required here, Pactor 1, 2, 3, and 4 all have full official ITU emission designators of 304HF1B, 375HJ2D, 2K20J2D, 2K40J2D respectively.

Remember the matter before them only involves dropping the symbol rate restrictions. Claims of Pactor 3 and 4 legality came up and they decided to look into them since Pactor 4 is a current rule impacted mode that the FCC has issued several emergency waivers for.

Thus far (maybe I missed it) the FCC doesn’t seem concerned at all about B2F compression used in many digital applications, but that is subject to change. Part of me would like to see them issue an opinion on this and put a good chunk of the anti-Winlink drama to rest.

 

For some of you….be careful what you wish for.

Many feel the Winlink links on HF are encrypted or an attempt to intentionally obscure the meaning of a message. They are not encrypted nor secure from monitoring. They just use a documented protocol for compressing data being sent over a link for purposes of transfer integrity, small attachments, and a significant reduction in airtime used.

Details of the B2F protocol and compression used are publicly documented. The VB source code used by Winlink itself is available here for free. LZH has been around for ages and for the Linux folks the source and utilities are easy to find.

I would suggest those essentially wanting the FCC to ban encoding and compression of digital data on the ham spectrum to stop and do some research. Research just how far and wide such techniques are commonly used for legit and beneficial purposes. Picture the future of the digital side of our hobby without that. Unless you are a die hard analog only op this could easily backfire on you.

Yes the automated digital stations can be annoying and cause unintentional QRM. Dude, I get it. I operate APRS up in the top end of the 30m band and it gets ugly in there at times. With the solar cycle being where it is the lower bands have become even more congested. It is what it is.

Should we maybe create some structure to where the Winlink gateways should congregate versus being spread out all over the place akin to how the HF APRS folks stay up in the top khz of 30m? IMHO yes but that is a bandplan issue, not a mode legality issue.

Our HF bands are shared spectrum and yes even the automated stations suffer from QRM. Our HF bands are not a perfect world for a hobby like amateur radio and neither you, I, the ARRL, or the FCC can make them perfect. Try more tolerance, understanding, and keeping a bottle of Patience Pills handy.

If the amateur radio hobby is stressing you out then maybe you need a new hobby? Give fishing a try 😉  I’m with Mr. Foreman except I’d add camping to the mix. Riding into the backcountry to camp next to a stream or lake to get some fishing in = my happy place.

“Anytime I can sneak in a moment to fish and ride horses, I’m a happy camper!”
George Foreman

 

What is behind this latest dramafest?

Now let’s not kid ourselves here, a review of the filed comments reveal this drama is filled with Winlink/Pactor hate. That coming from a guy who is not exactly the biggest fan of Winlink. I have warmed to it somewhat lately, but I still have some abuse, security (spoofing, viruses, etc), and management concerns with it. That is an issue with the application(s) involved, not the particular digital mode in use under that application.

One of my ham mentors was fond of that saying along the lines of “ham radio is just a reflection of our society. As such we can’t be surprised by what we see and hear.” My gosh how true is that today. Some fair questions can be asked here, some changes are needed, but some just can’t put the bucket of mud down and be adults.

This drama is really nothing new as this has flared up several times over the years. Sadly few seem to be able to separate Pactor 3/4 from Winlink and could wind up with some some dangerous precedents that could easily bite their own backsides.

I have always enforced an unwritten rule that the KYPN blog stays focused on ham radio, especially packet radio, and far away from politics, religion, and guns. Three often controversial topics that lately drive so much of our national conversation to unhealthy levels. So forgive me here but a lot of this latest NPRM debate I see playing out reminds me of the “gun debate” in our country. Lots of emotion, FUD, ignorance on multiple levels, absolutism, well intended folks simply not understanding all the angles of what they are commenting upon, lots of money (both sides), and endless politics/agendas. Too often it is all about “beating the other side at any cost” versus being reasonable adults open to both sides of things.  Welcome to modern America, SMH RME LOL.

PS – For the record I’m Pro-2A akin to Justice Scalia and Sheriff Ozzie. Scalia in terms of the 2nd Amendment IS an individual right to keep (own, possess) and bear (use/carry), but it is NOT a blank check..there have to be some rules/limits. A Sheriff Ozzie Knezovic in that we dearly need to stop the political nonsense and have a civil discussion about the mental health, cultural, and parenting aspects behind the problem versus solely focusing on inanimate objects. Folks we have kids killing kids. Let that sink in.

Okay, I’ve climbed out far enough on that particular limb, back to ham radio.

 

Do we really need to make these rule changes?

Yes and it should of been done years ago.

It is obvious that the current regulation by symbol rate is obsolete. The growing list of Pactor 4 waivers from the FCC for recent major disaster operations clearly illustrates the problem with the current rules.

Remember Pactor 4 requires no more bandwidth than Pactor 3. The current rules prohibit Pactor 4 due to it exceeding the allowed 300 baud symbol rate limitation, not because it’s some spectrum devouring monster. It runs at 1800 baud symbol rate which makes it illegal on U.S. amateur bands while legal most everywhere else.

Our current “regulate by symbol rate” approach needs to be changed to reflect modern communication techniques and modes. This change will bring the U.S. rules more inline with those in other countries, remember HF signals don’t stop at borders. It will allow more experimentation and development towards other higher performance and more spectrum efficient modes/modems. This will also help facilitate more efficient message transfers with modes like Pactor 4 that are well suited to EmComm needs.

We can debate how to get there in terms of the actual language of the rule changes, but advanced high performance modes like Pactor 4 need to be legal on the U.S. ham bands.

 

Jeff there is more to the hobby than just EmComm.

Yes I get that the hobby is not solely about EmComm. Yet many non-EmComm hams would be wise to remember that we don’t get to keep our very valuable (increasingly so) spectrum just for contesting and DXing. No that is not a dissing of those activities as I enjoy both, just stating a fact.

I recommend every ham take a minute and review rule 97.1 “Basis and purpose” and The Amateur’s Code.

 

Is there some good that can come out of this latest NPRM mess?

Sure there is. There are some fair questions to be asked and some rule changes need to be fleshed out. Sadly a lot of what is currently playing out here is not the way to go about it. Certain hams need be ashamed of themselves. I can only picture the eye rolling and facial expressions at the FCC as they read through some of the filed comments.

I actually think there are some things here that an official ruling/opinion from the FCC would be healthy for the hobby. Example? Does the common and decades long standing practice of using documented compression techniques on digital links equate to “intentional obscuring of message content” and thus a violation of rule 97.113?  As a long time packet/digital radio op I’d love to see this officially dealt with one way or the other.

Remember you will not find the word encryption in the Part 97 rules. There is nothing in the rules mandating everything be clear text. The relevant phrase here is “messages encoded for the purpose of obscuring their meaning.” How will the FCC will apply that to simply just “encoding” data flows with documented compression techniques commonly used for legitimate communications for purposes of transfer integrity, attachment capabilities, and significant reduction in airtime used, etc?

Heck if you want reduced congestion on the HF bands then you should be demanding that those transfers be done using compression techniques. Do you want that 10 minute connection to now take 20 to 30 minutes? I didn’t think so.

 

Is this NPRM dangerous to the hobby’s future?

I feel reasonably confident that the FCC will be able to dig out the relevant facts from under all the drama here. From there it should not be hard for them to clear both Pactor 4 (plus similar modes) and open/documented compression techniques for use on our bands via some well thought out rule changes/tweaks and formal opinions. That is if they even look at the compression topic. Good FCC rulings/opinions here will be healthy for the digital side of the hobby, not the end of it.

I doubt this will go the way some people think it will and they might as well get used to hearing more Pactor 4 on the U.S. airwaves. Pst…it’s already in legal use in other countries. HF signals ignore lines on a map so you’re already hearing it on the bands. It’s both sad and odd that this needed rule change has created so much drama. Oh well, welcome to modern America where everything has to be high drama and a crisis. LOL

 

Pactor 4 is being used that elsewhere?

Actually Pactor 4 looks to be very popular across the globe…..except the USA.

2018-11_Traffic_Summary

Winlink November 2018 message traffic totals. See note below.

Note:   Some will notice the low traffic counts for every other HF mode (ARDOP, Robust Packet, VARA) and assume they are hardly used which is not true. Remember this represents “reported” traffic and will be connection data from Tri-Mode (HF) and RMS Packet (V/UHF) gateways. Tri-Mode tends to be gateways running the Pactor and WINMOR modes. The other HF modes tend to be found on BPQ32 gateways which do not report traffic counts. Thus traffic count data for those modes is so far off it is useless. That said, still a lot of P4 message traffic on the Tri-Mode gateways.

 

Is there risk in asking the FCC to get involved?

Yes, of course. I would again remind some of these hams of that wise old ham radio saying along the lines of “Let us self-police our hobby and think twice before we ask the FCC to rule on something. We could wind up with a ruling that no one likes.”

 

The “National Security” implications?

Oh give me a freaking break….face_palm_look

Allow Tommy Less Jones to mimic my expression after reading some of this ignorance of existing terrorist and drug cartel communication networks.

As someone with a LE background, has read a few EPIC bulletins in his day, and has been through some SIGINT training I can assure you of the following. If the terrorists or drug cartels want secure communications they either already have or can have them via a wide variety of tools. If any ham gear or modes are in use then that is only out of simple convenience and not because it was the only option available.

These folks are criminals that couldn’t give a rip about our precious FCC Part 97 rules or any changes we might make to them. Heck I can think of several ways for a cartel or terrorist network to use legit looking or sounding communications, in the clear, on ham/CB/LMR/Maritime spectrum to send “coded” messages that you wouldn’t give a second thought to.

Never mind all the better, faster, more secure methods these criminals already have available to them…..and are actively using.

 

But Jeff the FCC says they can’t monitor these new fangled digital modes?

First, note that I have that T.L. Jones expression back on my face.

Second, so you really believe that they can’t monitor them if they wanted to?  If not, then they could not just pick up the phone to Ft Meade or Langley and get whatever tool they need? Do you expect them to fully detail all their monitoring capabilities to us?

Folks if a new or existing ham radio digital mode creates a serious National Security risk then we might as well cancel the entire amateur radio service. The very essence of ham radio is developing new and creative ways to pass communications along. It is called advancing the art of radio communication and it is one of the primary reasons why the Amateur Radio Service (ARS) exists to begin with.

Folks we hams are not special, but we are part of a unique radio service. We will always be coming up with new voice and digital modes. Yes the FCC may not be instantly keeping up with all of them, but that’s not our fault. That’s not the fault of Winlink. That’s not the fault of SCS. Not the fault of the Pactor folks.

Frankly it’s not the fault of the FCC either. They have limited resources and a budget that they have to operate within. News Flash for some of you….as long as we (hams) stay reasonably within our lane they are not overly worried about what goes on in the ham spectrum. They have other higher priorities and problems to deal with.

The rules governing the ARS have to be limited and flexible for the service to thrive and advance the radio art as we progress into an increasingly digital future.

 

Transparency of ham radio communications?

Now this is a part of this drama worthy of some discussion. I do feel that our generally self-policing hobby requires reasonably open communications on our airwaves. Where we all will likely never 100% agree is the definition of “reasonably open” LOL.

So Jeff you must be against Pactor 4 and similar modes? Nope, you can monitor those communications if you buy the appropriate hardware and/or software. No different than if say you wanted to monitor Yaesu’s FUSION, D-Star, HSMM, and whatever the latest DD/DV mode of the year is.

Just because you can’t monitor a mode as easily as you would like or for free does not mean it is encryption or “intent to obscure the meaning of a message.” I think even the FCC will agree with that last sentence.

I think where we start getting into murky waters ripe for abuse is with the applications we run over various digital modes, not the modes themselves. When you drill down into what is behind so much of the drama in this debate it is obvious that Winlink is where most of it is focused.

There is no doubt that the Winlink system has been used for sending/receiving content in violation of the FCC rules. BTW so has AM, SSB, FM, CW, and the latest DV/DD modes. The Winlink leadership is aware of it otherwise gateway sysops would not of received the following message from them back in April 2015:

Date: 2015/04/29
From: W3QA
Source: WEBMAIL
Subject: Sysop Reminder

--SPECIAL MESSAGE--

All WInlink Sysops,

As a Winlink gateway station sysop and licensed operator you must monitor 
the traffic moving through your station. By monitoring, you can manage 
messages your users might create that violate the terms of your license. We 
have noted illegal content rising in recent weeks, especially for US 
licensees, where business content that benefits a licensed amateur, profane 
language, and certain third-party messages are violations of FCC rules. 
Please refresh yourself on your license's transmission content rules.

In case you didn't know, you have access to a sysop-only web app that lets 
you view and manage the messages posted or delivered through your station. 
Here's how to access it:

Log into the Winlink web site at http://www.winlink.org using the callsign 
of your gateway station. Click "My account" and log in. If you have never 
done this before, obtain your password as described on the login page. Once 
you are logged in click on the link "Sysop Message Monitor". This will list 
all current messages flowing through your station.

If you find you have received or sent messages with prohibited Message 
content, follow the suggested actions on the app page. You can review 
all Sysop Guidelines at: 

http://www.winlink.org/content/join_sysop_team_sysop_guidelines

Thanks for your generous participation and contributions to the global 
Winlink system!

Lor W3QA
For the Winlink Development Team
73 de w3qa
Winlink Team

Demanding a mode be banned or an entire system be shut down or crippled because it has been abused is not the correct answer. Those of us that can take a breath and put on the hat labeled “adult” will simply ask a few questions.

  1. How widespread is this abuse?
  2. What was the intent of the offending operator?
  3. Was it flagrant abuse, accidental, or just a misunderstanding of the rules?
  4. How was the abuse detected?
  5. Is this widespread or very limited in nature?
  6. Was reasonable corrective action taken upon detection of the problem?

The above is not dissing or blaming the WDT folks anymore than we should blame Edwin Armstrong for the embarrassing Festival de Violations mess on a certain 2m FM frequency in Los Angeles.

The Winlink admins became aware of a problem and took actions. The Winlink system now provides a way for gateway sysops to review recent messages flowing over their gateway. While I feel this needs to be taken further, it is a good start. A good start that addressed one of my biggest long standing objections to adding a RMS to our local node stack….Control Op visibility into the content flowing over the gateway.

Banning Pactor 3, Pactor 4 or [insert your most disliked digital message transfer mode here] would do far more harm than good. It is not about the mode, but misuse of the applications running on top of it. Deal with the misuse not the mode.

 

So Jeff you are saying you had no way to monitor for violations on your gateway?

Not true, it just wasn’t convenient enough for our particular setup. I manage a lot of infrastructure and only have X amount of time to do it all. I’m not retired so tools that make my life easier are welcome and play heavily into my decision making. Those running around with buckets of mud to sling at anything Winlink can spin that however they wish.

I could direct everything into the BPQ32 BBS for manual review. I could also manually capture frames (PortMon, Terminal logs, RX-only modem, etc), sequence the payloads, combine them, then decompress them for review. Those were just not real convenient for a Sysop with numerous other priorities and limited admin time. Plus our gateway is at a remote tower site…not like the radio and modems are downstairs in my hamshack.

The new Sysop Message Manager tool made things convenient enough that I was comfortable with adding the RMS application to the existing node/BBS stack. The ability to log in from anywhere and review gateway activity is very handy for someone that is often on the road more than home.

PS – I’ve yet to see a single message on my gateway that would get within a mile of dancing into the gray area of 97.113. This year’s activity could be summed up as a little AuxComm traffic for our 4th of July Riverfest, several messages from a weekly ARES Winlink & ICS training net, test messages, and lots of messages from where I used the system to test new SCS modem firmware for our Tracker DSP TNCs. All legit uses of our spectrum and well within the spirit of the ARS rules.

 

But Jeff what about WINMOR, VARA, ARDOP etc etc?

I don’t use those modes on my gateway. I prefer hardware modems for a variety of reasons.

Yes we can discuss that some of the newer ARQ soundcard modes/modems need to be much better documented. One could also argue that before they are legal for use on the ham bands they should be required to provide an interface (KISS, HOSTMODE ?) to allow for monitoring and the collection of monitored frames off the air like hardware modems do.

 

But Jeff it’s too difficult for me to capture a Winlink session and decompress the message from it.

May I suggest some of you take all this time and energy you spend bitchin’ and moaning about Winlink and invest it into a modem and a book on Perl or VB .NET.  Get off your backside, study up, write come code/scripts. If the need here is even only a fraction of what is proclaimed I sense an opportunity for you to learn something new, contribute something to the hobby, and even make some money if you wish. Triple win!

The link and compression protocol used on Winlink connections is well documented and publicly available. The VB source for the LZH compression is freely available here. You will also find a link there to a page containing full details on the B2F protocol. No “secret recipe” used in the making of a B2F compressed message and the Winlink session.

Step out of your comfort zone and learn something useful. That’s what the hobby is about….not having everything handed to you 100% plug-n-play on a silver platter.

PS – 97.1(d) says “trained operators” not “appliance operators.”  Appliance ops are a dime a dozen.

 

Jeff the B2F compression keeps us from even identifying the stations involved.

False. Monitoring the channel you can see considerable identifying information in the clear during session startup, message proposals, and signoff.  Here’s a snippet from a terminal monitoring a 10m RP connection into our local gateway from my mobile earlier:

session_startup_20181201

Seems to me the identities of both stations involved here are abundantly clear. Even seeing a message ID, to, from, and subject lines.

Since this is a packet mode connection the AX25 protocol means every single frame transmitted has identifying information clearly visible. If you monitor that and can’t figure out the callsign of both stations involved then I’m thinking you need to turn in your “ham card” LOL

Yes a Pactor link is going to look different (it’s not AX25), but the session startup and shutdown is still easy copy for anyone with the appropriate modem.

 

A Compromise?

Winlink and its B2F compression has many legitimate and valuable uses on the ham radio spectrum. It can also facilitate abuse of our spectrum on an internet email connected system like Winlink. As such I propose the following compromise solution:

  1. All Winlink message traffic flowing in or out of an RF gateway operating on ham spectrum shall be captured and archived by the CMS system. A good foundation for this is already in place. Telnet and MARS traffic exempted.
  2. This archive shall be publicly available on the main Winlink website.
  3. This archive shall include all non-exempted RF message traffic for at least one year.
  4. This archive shall be searchable by keywords, callsign, QRG, and/or date/time range.
  5. Gateway Sysops shall have the option of having the CMS system email them a copy of every message going in/out of their RF gateway for their own long term review/archival approaches.

Yes there a lots of details to be worked out in the above, but you get the basic idea.

Don’t give me the storage space excuse. This is 2018 and storage is dirt cheap. An archive of a years worth of every Winlink RF flowed message would fit on a freaking flash drive.

Don’t give me the privacy issues. Ham radio communications offer no expectation of privacy.

You can thank me later 😉

 

But Jeff, what about the concerns of increased congestion on the HF bands?

Okay, fair concern. Something tells me that if the suggestion above is put into place we will notice some reduction in the Pactor, ARDOP, WINMOR, VARA, (insert name of the latest new whizbang soundcard mode here) signals on the HF bands. A reduction as SailMail and the SatComm providers gain some new customers 😉

There are two ways of looking at the impact on band congestion. One is with more bandwidth allowing higher speed connections the congestion will be reduced some as many connections will complete faster. The other is that higher performance modes like Pactor 4 will enable users to download bigger files/messages. This will encourage increased usage that will only further add to the congestion on our HF bands.

Pactor 4 has been legal in many (most all?) other countries for years now. Thus I have to ask what should be a couple obvious questions. Has their regulation by bandwidth (vs symbol rate) approaches been a net positive or negative? Is Pactor 4 causing any significant problems in those regions?

Here’s a novel idea, let’s drop the obsolete symbol rate restrictions. Next let’s try allowing up to 2.8 KHz wide data modes in the existing HF automatic subbands for 5 years. Let’s try that for a few years and see how it works out here in the states.  Fair enough?

 

The EmComm/disaster communications angle?

If we have to send another “Force of 22” into a Puerto Rico post-Maria “it’s all down” environment do you or do you not want them taking with them one of the most effective and efficient HF digital messaging modes (Pactor 3/4) available?  Do you or do you not want them to be able to use compression on those links?  If you answered “no” to either of those then you need to go review rule 97.1 and the Amateurs Code again.

 

What if we get a bad ruling/opinion of no Pactor 3/4, no compression?

I don’t think the FCC is even going to address compression. I would prefer they did, but this NPRM is about dropping the symbol rate not a series of endless side issues. If B2 is killed off then the impact of that will be far beyond just Winlink. Winlink is just one of several applications that use it.

I just don’t see the FCC having a major issue with Pactor 3/4 as long as they feel its technical characteristics are sufficiently documented. Given past waivers and what started this, I doubt they will have a problem with it under current 97.309(a). There’s also the possibility they could say it comes up short and issue another waiver while they rewrite 97.309(a) to allow it and similar modes.

I suspect in a few months we will be laughing at all this drama and wondering why this had to be such a big deal.

 

To wrap this rant up….

Do you still feel these proposed rule changes will have any impact upon criminals operating at terrorist and drug cartel levels?  If so please allow me to propose three new Part 97 rules to ensure the security of our great nation at great risk in a dangerous world.

New Rule 97.901 would prohibit the possession, use by, and sales of amateur radio gear by/to anyone in/or associated with any terrorist, terrorist group or drug cartel.

New Rule 97.902 would create a new Universal License & Criminal Background Check system (ULCBC) at all ham radio gear Points of Sale.

New Rule 97.903 would stipulate that only spark gap transmissions will be authorized on amateur radio service after midnight UTC December 31, 2018.  #MakeMarconiProud

Problem solved. Feel better now? Feel safer?  Yes you can thank me later.

Yes the above section is a joke.

 

WA4ZKO


K4KPN-15 APRS Digi/I-gate Outage

November 15, 2018

Update 11pm local: 

  • K4KPN-15 has been back on the air since around noon local time.
  • The Dry Ridge site lost its primary internet feed due to an extended power outage impacting an upstream distribution facility. The site was quickly failed over to a backup connection via the inter-site Canopy WAN. Another good test of “Plan B” procedures and resources. Also a reminder of the dangers of using the internet as your backbone minus a lot of redundancy.  What is your Plan B and C?
  • Also a good lesson that just because you have generator power doesn’t mean other adjacent 3rd party systems will have the same. Don’t be lazy, plan accordingly.

 

—- original post —-

K4KPN-15 is temporarily down due to widespread ice storm related power outages in the region. As previously noted that site has no backup power nor is it considered a priority site for power/service restoration.

The Dry Ridge site (K4KPN-10) remains online even though it has transferred to generator power twice in the last few hours due to the controller not liking the input power quality. Guessing the grid feed there is just barely holding on. Well at least we have our first real world storm induced test of the recently repaired transfer switch 😉

The Jonesville East site (K4KPN-1,-4,-6,-13,-14) has alarmed a few times due to power fluctuations, but all gear there remains fully functional with the UPS systems handling those brief brownouts/drop-outs. Security cameras show significant icing on the antennas and trees there, but I have seen worse.

Obviously expect the usual signal degradation from iced up antennas. Remember that depending upon the design and band involved, ice accumulation tends to degrade antenna efficiency and drop the resonant frequency to varying degrees.

Talking with my Dad and friends there the predicted “trace” of ice turned out to be considerably more than just a trace. A client said the sounds of limbs cracking and transformers exploding started around 1am and intensified into the early morning hours. Judging by the reports and outage maps the Cincinnati area is dealing with the impact of a serious ice storm.

Judging by radar the freezing rain is almost out of the area. Once that stops and the temp stays above freezing things have a chance of melting off. Telemetry shows 32.2F at K4KPN-4 and hopefully that will start climbing soon.

Welcome to Winter 2018-2019. While snow and power outages are commonplace here, it is odd hearing about 4-land nuisance snows and a nasty ice storm during the Fall months. Makes one wonder what else Mother Nature has in store for us when Winter officially arrives.

 

WA4ZKO


Inbox ?s Frequencies, 80 Meters?

November 5, 2018

Apparently starting blogging again after several months of being scarce results in a rash of inquiries. Since I have a rare Monday afternoon off after unpacking the car and running errands this morning I’ll tackle a couple things.

Frequency wise nothing has changed this year other than the addition of APRS to the six meter port of the Jonesville node. Below should make a good quick reference:

BPQ32 Node KYJVL - Jonesville, KY EM78PP 
Port 1: 441.0500 MHz 9.6k   (primary user port)
Port 2: 145.6900 MHz 1.2k   (user port)
Port 3: 223.6600 MHz 1.2k   (user port, low speed linking)
Port 4: WAN            (intrasite Canopy/VPN links)
Port 5: 28.1480 MHz USB RP  (user port)
Port 6: 50.6200 MHz 1.2k    (user port, APRS Digi/Gate)
 
NODE = K4KPN-4
BBS  = K4KPN-1
CHAT = K4KPN-13
RMS  = K4KPN-14

Some have asked if there will be an 80m RP port? Maybe a temporary one next Fall, but it will involve whether or not some spare gear becomes available. I’m not going to go “buy” gear just for an 80m port because it’s not going to be a viable band at the future site. Problem revolves around space constraints, local noise floors (80 is nasty there), and control op privileges.

10 meters may have to be it for HF depending on who eventually takes over daily control op responsibilities of all K4KPN gear. The two most likely future control ops are still “techs” so that plays into things – I’m doing some nudging LOL. The trustee/control op questions will be part of the decision making on what bands move to the future site. Technician class licensees can both use and be control ops of that 10 meter robust packet port above so NBD there.

 

WA4ZKO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


N0KFQ Silent Key

November 5, 2018

On Tuesday October 30, 2018 N0KFQ Kenneth Oscar Higgs became a Silent Key at age 88. The country, his family and the Branson Missouri community lost a good man. The packet radio community lost a good operator and a well known fixture in and long time contributor to the HF Packet BBS scene.

His obituary can be found here.

Ken, who went by “K.O.” was one of my early packet BBS mentors and helped me with the conflicting documentation out there on BBS HA when I was setting up my first full featured BBS. Years later when I worked with John (G8BPQ) on getting NTS forwarding added to BPQMail, K.O. was a source of good input as his FBB based BBS frequently handled NTS traffic.

To this day I’ve always kept an account on his BBS and would stop by occasionally, but not nearly as much as I should of. We all know how it is with us guys, we want to stay in better contact but “life” happens with family, work, etc.

KO’s wife Billie was also a ham (KB0WSA) and was also active in packet radio and ran one of the area packet nets for a long time. She passed away a few years ago. They both had a good life and witnessed a lot of history.

A comment from a friend’s email regarding KO’s death “We packet guys are all getting old and dying off.”  As I do my best to ignore the proliferation of gray hairs, I can’t disagree that attrition is doing a number on the packet radio community. We would all be wise to try and better engage the younger members of our hobby. Let us try to get more of them interested in and active on APRS and other packet radio applications. They are the future.

Well 88 years was a good long life. On behalf of KYPN and myself…. Rest in Peace K.O.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4

 

WA4ZKO


Fall 2018 6m APRS and Misc Update

November 2, 2018

Figured I’d take this “downtime” evening in 4-land and toss together a quick update on the 6m APRS system and a status report. Note that I have several draft blog postings that I’ll try to finalize in the coming weeks. Sorry for the lack of posts, but get used to that being the new normal on here due to other priorities. Hey, you get what you pay for 😉

Well hopefully everyone had a good summer. I wound up being back-n-forth bi-coastal more than originally planned but it’s all good. It stresses the XYL at times, but like I remind her “we’re healthy, we have a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, we can pay our bills, job security is not a concern, and we’re ahead of the game on retirement plans so let us realize just how blessed we are.” We recently got in from a nice Fall trip up in New England. We were a bit late for peak Fall foliage color in the inland areas, but there was some spectacular color along the coastal areas.

We stopped in 4-land for a quick work project and I needed to absentee vote this year. A longtime friend and former co-worker is running for Judge Exec and his Chief Deputy is running to fill his shoes as Sheriff. We also have a somewhat interesting statehouse race.

So I just cast what may be my last vote as a Kentuckian. The other half is an official Wyomingite so we’re heading back west this week so she can vote there. Plus we both need to get a pile of work done before holiday hustle and bustle arrives.

Hey where the heck did 2018 go to? Current plans are Thanksgiving in 4-land, then another extended family Christmas in the Idaho mountains, followed by New Years Eve in Wyoming. Hey the snow is piling up on the mountains so holiday mountain grandeur and fresh powder to play in = yes please!

Hopefully during some of the holiday downtime I can get the blog and some other ham radio documentation projects caught up for the locals. No guarantees though LOL.

Okay, moving on to some status reports….

6m APRS:

K4KPN-6/-4 was moved from the Jonesville tower site to the Jonesville “East” tower site (my personal tower) in early September after some coverage testing. The east site has a lower noise floor (better receive performance) and still meets coverage needs into the three tough to cover EMCOMM relevant locations we keep that port around for.

The K4KPN-6 6m APRS Digi/I-gate remains on the air 24×7 on 50.6200 MHz using 1200 baud AFSK and no changes are currently planned.

KI4WEF recently got his home Outpost PMM terminal on the air again from the new home he is building. He’s on a temporary 6m antenna till he finalizes how he’s going to setup his new station. His station is also beaconing an APRS compatible beacon so we have another 6m APRS station on the air.

I haven’t had time to confirm the details but scuttlebutt is 6m APRS is being used in some of the Marine Corps Marathon events. Cool eh?

 

Packet and Repeaters:

Most all the packet gear has been shifted over to the club callsign.  I just got the coordination for 444.4250+ repeater switched over to the club callsign and will reprogram it’s ID when time allows. This is all part of an evolving plan to move things over to the JFD tower site and let Greg, Lonnie, and Mark manage it once we fully retire out west.

There has been some talk about making 425 dual-mode analog/FUSION or analog/P25. The reasoning will be explained later on. It’s currently on the air from Williamstown in low profile test mode as I need to finish tweaking it. Current plans are to relocate it back to its primary site at JFD once some antenna and feedline repairs are completed there. ETA on that move = good question, probably going to be next Spring.

 

Node/BBS/RMS Shutdown plans:

Several have understandably asked if these systems will still be around in a few years. First off I’m not going to guarantee anything. I have plans but I can’t predict the future. It is just just a hobby, we don’t charge a dime in dues, we do what we do for the love of packet radio. Several silent keys and folks moving off for work/retirement reasons have left KYPN and packet activity in N. Kentucky at a fraction of what it used to be. It is what it is.

Actual local utilization will drive choices on what remains. Rack space and site integration issues at the future site will also play a role. There’s not going to be room for everything there so if I was to hazard a guess? The 10m RP, 220 1.2k, and 441 9.6k ports will be what remains. For those wondering what packet gear to invest in? There’s your answer 😉

 

2m APRS:

The K4KPN-15 2m APRS Digi/I-Gate is scheduled to be turned off January 2020. It is at a location where I lease space for my day job. I’m slowly extricating myself from my KY obligations and will not need that space come 2020.

I don’t have any free site that would accommodate K4KPN-15. Hopefully some others will step up and run some of the local 2m APRS infrastructure.

K4KPN-15’s days are numbered. Plenty of notice has been provided.

 

30m RP APRS / K4KPN-10:

While there are no current plans to shut down K4KPN-10 I am looking at moving it to a site near the VA/KY border. This is where one of my day job clients has a spare HF antenna and some rack space.

I’ve had the VA site patched into the WAN loop since July. I’ve been playing with both IP and stream feeding a spare modem on the remote radio there into K4KPN-10. Results show very little difference in NOAM and S. EU coverage and a slight improvement on the N. EU path. So that’s looking like an option I may explore further when time allows for me to run more tests from out west.

 

Well I’m beat and we want to hit the road early so that’s enough for now.

WA4ZKO


K4KPN-6 6 Meter APRS Digi / I-Gate Full Availability

August 10, 2018

Observing a need for a 6 meter APRS I-Gate in this region, KYPN realized the K4KPN-4 BPQ32 node could probably meet this need without any additional hardware investment. Recent versions of the BPQ32 node software have considerable built-in APRS digi/gate capabilities that only need to be configured and enabled.

The past few months showed that the past trend of most activity on the node being on the UHF 9.6k, 220 1.2k, and 10m RP ports was still holding true today. Thus we pondered could the APRS features on the 6m port be enabled and would they coexist with the existing Node and its BBS, Chat, and RMS functions? If both could coexist then it was frankly a no-brainer to do it.  The 6m port puts out a stout signal that penetrates well into the valleys and hilly terrain common to the area.

The 6 meter APRS scene has seen bursts of activity over the years, but good 24x7x365 digi/gate infrastructure is very rare outside of a few pockets of activity. The rest has been more of  what I’d call seasonal activity of folks firing up on frequency to listen for packet/APRS DX during the late Spring and Summer e-skip seasons. Others use it as a less congested alternative to the mess that 2m APRS can be in some areas.

At one time there was a push to build up packet infrastructure on 50.620 across the country for the PropNet network. The WSPR mode and network came on the scene and its many advantages stagnated PropNET growth. What remains of PropNet seems mostly focused on PSK31 operations on HF. No PropNET packet operations have been noted on 50.620 for over a decade now. This means 50.6200 MHz is an underutilized frequency begging to be put to good uses.

Testing showed both APRS and conventional packet should coexist fine on the Jonesville BPQ32 node’s 6m port. Thus on the afternoon of July 9, 2018 KYPN spun up K4KPN-6 on 50.6200 MHz 1200 baud AFSK packet mode. K4KPN-6 offers both full WIDEn-n compliant digipeating and basic R-I-R (2-way) I-Gate messaging functions.

The current plans are to run K4KPN-6 24×7. The 6m port beacons an APRS compatible beacon every 5 minutes to help detect DX openings. Beaconing faster would provide a better chance of catching meteor burns, but 5 minutes was felt to be a good compromise value for a mixed use port.

The advanced APRS digipeater functions available in BPQ32 are downright slick and one can tell John gave them some thought. The I-Gate side has some cosmetic issues, but it is plenty usable from a functionality standpoint. I’ll try to run some changes/improvements past John (G8BPQ) this winter. He is busy sailing/traveling during the Summer months. Thus I avoid bugging him with non-critical feature requests and minor bug reports that can wait. John should be deemed a Saint for his patience with his user base and his willingness to continually improve BPQ32/LinBPQ.

So far K4KPN-6 looks like a valuable asset both locally and for the 6m APRS DX folks. Best of all with our existing 6m port on the Jonesville BPQ32 system there was no need to buy anything else. Just enable and configure the functions you want in the bpq32 config file and restart the node. Obviously you’ll need an APRS-IS login and password if you want to use the I-Gate functionality.

Node and application stack (BBS, Chat, RMS) remain available on the 6m port. The APRS functions are just another application running on the node.

 

6m APRS Path Recommendations?

Making use of the K4KPN-6 6m APRS digi/I-gate functions is no different than operating on 2m APRS. Paths of WIDE1-1 or WIDE1-1,WIDE2-1 are good choices for 1-hop and 2-hop paths.

 

6m APRS Beacon Rate Recommendations?

The 6 meter APRS frequency is not overloaded like the 2m APRS is in so many areas of the country. There is plenty of spare airtime on the channel. Thus the use of aggressive beacon rates is unlikely to be an issue. 5 or 10 minute rates for infrastructure sites should be fine in most areas.

Temporary use of even faster rates for testing or during meteor shower peak times should not be an issue and would increase the odds of snagging a burn. Mobiles can probably dial things down to 1 or 2 minute rates.

 

6m APRS Biggest Range Challenge? Noise Floor

The 50 MHz band propagates locally just like the 30-50 MHz VHF-Low band that you may be familiar with. Not so great in a pure urban environment. So so in a suburban environment, but ultimately best suited to rural environments where its range and terrain penetration qualities can shine.

Note:  There’s a reason why a surprising number of users remain active in the VHF-Low Band spectrum even though it doesn’t get much press. Current marketing/sales efforts are geared towards selling more expensive and complex systems on the higher bands. The range and simplicity of VHF-Low systems are still a good fit for some users.

Don’t laugh at Low band. VHF….  I know of a 46 MHz system installed in the early 1980’s that is still in use. Now that’s serious ROI. Also note that the VHF/UHF Part 90 narrowbanding mandate did NOT apply to VHF-Low systems.

Back on topic….

All things being equal 6 meters has more range potential than 2m. Problem is in the real world of RF all things are rarely equal. On 6m you are probably using a lower gain base antenna and most likely a less efficient mobile antenna system compared to say 2 meters. In most real world installs some of this will be offset by higher standard transmit powers, less free space losses, lower feedline losses, and better terrain penetration. All that aside, the main range limiter for 6m operators today is the higher local noise floor (NF) compared to the higher bands.

The old enemy of power line noise remains, but it is now joined by a wide variety of noise spewing consumer electronics clobbering both HF and the lower VHF spectrum. Sadly this is a problem that will only get worse unless the FCC cracks down on a lot of the cheap poorly designed/filtered junk behind so much of the problem. Even then it would take ages for device attrition to clean up the spectrum much. Plus we’ve become a society that expects everything to be super cheap versus paying for higher quality equipment.

Where you live and operate can make a huge difference and must be factored in unless you like surprises. I was stunned at the NF differences between the old KY QTH and our temp place here. Living out in farm country most of my life definitely spoiled me. I wouldn’t call this “urban” by any means, but having several neighbors nearby = a lot more noise on the bands. I was initially worried about the big power distribution lines a few hundred yards away out back. Turns out they are actually the least of the NF problems here LOL.

Every amateur radio band has it’s pros, cons, and unique propagation characteristics. Six meters is no exception to that rule. It remains a local workhorse of a band that also offers some fun DXing at times. It is called the Magic Band for a good reason.

WA4ZKO /7