Packet BBS, are they still a thing?

radioman2008

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I got the latest HRO po-rn mag in the mail and was flipping thru it and noticed there are still packet TNC's being sold. some are technology from 30 years ago.

It got me remembering 30 years ago when I first got licensed, there was a local Packet BBS with an internet connection in 1994!!! I was able to log into it and jump thru nodes all over America. W4DPH 145.05Mhz in the Tampa bay area. my friend put out a CQ thru DPH and got hundreds of responses back to him during the same time.

my first TNC, which I still have in storage is a MFJ1278B, with Multicom dos software. it is 1200 speed but had an option for 2400 upgrade.

so, does anyone here run a packet BBS and if so, what software and radio/interface do you use, and does it allow for internet linking?
 

redbeard

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We have had somewhat of a resurgence here lately. Most folks are doing it via soundcard interface now. We have a small message board and a few nodes. I will be looking for another Kantronics modem at Hamvention this year.
 

mtindor

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Unfortunately, it will never be like it was. In my area (virtually the same area as @redbeard above), there is some packet. But most of the packet in our state is run by a people who like to pretend their network is some sort of emergency SHTF network and don't want anybody to really use it. They may have nodes up on the air and connected over the Internet, but if you attempt to use any of the infrastructure you get the operators coming out of the woods and chastising you for it. Most people are running gateways that have a packet port on VHF and also Winlink nodes and HF packet / Vara stuff connected to it.

If it could only be like it was back in the 80s/90s with actual packet BBSs online, tons of nodes all around, NetROM transport across the state -- all the fun stuff. Unless you are in very specific areas of the country, packet is either nonexistent or run by SHFT folks who don't want it used for fun. That's my take. I'm sure that people living in the areas with lots of packet activity will have a different take.
 

tweiss3

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I have a VHF Winlink node up at my house. I was going to try to put it up as the dual BBS & Winlink, but I got in over my head. I know there are a ton in the Cleveland area though.
 

AK9R

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In my opinion, there are three ways to approach this:

1. Just have fun. Just get a used Kantronics KPC3 or KPC3+ (less than $100), configure it for PBBS mode, and put it on the air. Unless there is existing packet activity in your area, it will get little use.

2. Have a little more fun by networking it. Get a Kantronics KPC3 or KPC3+ or set up a cheap computer, even a Raspberry Pi, connected to the Internet, with sound card packet software and dive into the inscrutable world of BPQ32. You can have a PBBS that still few people will use, but it will be networked over the internet and people can use your station to hop to other stations. BPQ32 is a very powerful piece of software, but the documentation is sketchy and configuration info is mostly passed by word of mouth.

3. Put on your serious face and get involved with Winlink which is a world-wide email system using amateur radio. In my case, I have a small Windows computer connected to the Internet running UZ7HO Soundmodem and VaraFM along with Winlink's RMS Packet gateway software. Other stations can connect with my station over RF and send/receive "emails" with other stations world-wide through the Winlink network.
 

mtindor

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In my opinion, there are three ways to approach this:

1. Just have fun. Just get a used Kantronics KPC3 or KPC3+ (less than $100), configure it for PBBS mode, and put it on the air. Unless there is existing packet activity in your area, it will get little use.

2. Have a little more fun by networking it. Get a Kantronics KPC3 or KPC3+ or set up a cheap computer, even a Raspberry Pi, connected to the Internet, with sound card packet software and dive into the inscrutable world of BPQ32. You can have a PBBS that still few people will use, but it will be networked over the internet and people can use your station to hop to other stations. BPQ32 is a very powerful piece of software, but the documentation is sketchy and configuration info is mostly passed by word of mouth.

3. Put on your serious face and get involved with Winlink which is a world-wide email system using amateur radio. In my case, I have a small Windows computer connected to the Internet running UZ7HO Soundmodem and VaraFM along with Winlink's RMS Packet gateway software. Other stations can connect with my station over RF and send/receive "emails" with other stations world-wide through the Winlink network.

I can't think of anything less entertaining than option #3. Sending email over packet lol. But that certainly is the fad these days. Of course #2 and #1 do not provide any entertainment either. Bottom line -- it's DEAD Jim. It doesn't have to be, but one will never get the masses interested in packet again enough to have keyboard to keyboard chats, read BBS stuff over packet etc. That is an era gone by, albeit a very fun era.
 

AK9R

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Yes, the packet hey-day of the early 90's is dead.

Setting up a packet<>Winlink gateway is a useful tool for emcomm. (I didn't want to say that too loudly. ;) )

Maximum throughput for Vara HF is over 7000 bps though connection quality has a significant impact on the useable speed. Vara FM in Wide mode can run about 12,000 bps. Definitely not as fast as fiber Internet or 5G cell phones, but pretty good for "old-fashioned" ham radio.
 

KM6CQ

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We have one set up by the emcom folks in Reno and it is fun. I use it all the time to node hop through the internet to Colorado and access the BBS just like in the 80's. It works much much better than node hopping over RF ever did. I have been able to node hop to the UK and have Keyboard to Keyboard chats. The days of a lot of local activity and peer to peer connecting are gone. There is no QRM or congestion on any frequency or BBS.
 

mtindor

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We have one set up by the emcom folks in Reno and it is fun. I use it all the time to node hop through the internet to Colorado and access the BBS just like in the 80's. It works much much better than node hopping over RF ever did. I have been able to node hop to the UK and have Keyboard to Keyboard chats. The days of a lot of local activity and peer to peer connecting are gone. There is no QRM or congestion on any frequency or BBS.

That likely works good if the node you connect to has good connectivity to other nodes that provide such features, and if the operators of the nodes in that area are okay with playing around. Seemingly, some of node ops here in Ohio do not want you to use anything for fun. It's all up "just in case", which is ridiculous. But in those situations there is nothing one can do if it isn't their equipment and money invested. Back in the day, any nodes we operated and were connected to were completely fine with casual users having fun and connecting from node to node to see what was happening 150 miles away. But that's not the case for some of the Ohio emcomm guys who set stuff up. Oh well. Glad you are able to have that fun!
 

KM6CQ

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I completely understand Mike if the emcom crowd wanted to run me off I would go and not come back. I enjoy this hobby and it's fun. I have no reason to ever turn this hobby into a business or service, I've made that mistake with other hobbies. Obviously if the country was invaded, we would all use our radios for service. But I'm not interested in service for the sake of service or training, save that for the government employees.
 

w2dsx

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Be careful with some of the Kantronics stuff, especially the KAM+s. I love them, have 2 and miss doing GTOR QSO's with some recent SKs. But they are frequently affected to component failure due to age. Make sure it's tested or you have the ability to return it. I have a few AEA and MFJ TNCs but I prefer the Kantronics. It was weird looking at some of that in my shack as it had been gathering dust for some time, now that you can pretty much do all of it with soundcard software. I had toyed with the idea of running a DX cluster on RF when the last one in my area expired, but there was only a couple of guys who would've used it, everyone else went to Telnet and then to online.

Most of the really big networks like NE Flexnet and SEDAN are broken, with no interest of bringing it back as everyone uses either Winlink or VARA. Also, with MFJ on the way out and no more Buxcomm, where would you get the rare jacks/connectors now?
 

AK9R

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Most of the really big networks like NE Flexnet and SEDAN are broken, with no interest of bringing it back as everyone uses either Winlink or VARA.
To be clear, Winlink is a email system using amateur radio. Winlink messages are passed using a variety of over-the-air protocols, including Pactor IV, Vara HF, Vara FM, ARDOP, and AX.25 packet. Vara HF and Vara FM are just data protocols that can be used by Winlink or other user interfaces. For example, VarAC is a popular keyboard-to-keyboard user interface that uses Vara HF and is completely separate from Winlink.

Also, with MFJ on the way out and no more Buxcomm, where would you get the rare jacks/connectors now?
Many manufacturers/sellers of data interfaces sell their own cables. Tigertronics sells cables for Signalinks. Masters Communications sells cables for their DRA interfaces. Byonics sells cables for their TinyTraks. RPC Electronics sells cables for their packet and APRS devices.

Alternatively, you can make them or find a friend to make them for you. The connectors are all available in the electronics market place. The wiring diagrams are either available in the manuals or easy to sort out. Get out the wire cutters and fire up the soldering iron.
 
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