This post is intended to be tied in with the Feb 7th PARC meeting. The intent is to provide members and others interested in packet/APRS in quickly finding useful links on how to implement a digital station either in your home, vehicle or on the go.
This is not indented to go into detail about how to configure your station, rather to give you a general idea and a central resource to find all the applications and equipment we use to make our stations run. Hopefully in the future I can go more in depth on how to configure various items, but for the time being I feel there are enough good articles around the net to get anyone started, Google is your friend!
And of course any of us who are into packet and APRS would be more than willing to answer your questions online, over the radio or in person.
For a good introduction to packet radio, read this: http://www.tapr.org/pr_intro.html
Now some equipment.
For a home station you have two choices when it comes to transmitting and receiving packet data, that is, using a hardware TNC or a software TNC (AKA, sound card interface).
Let’s start with hardware
The most widely known and used hardware TNC manufacturer is Kantronics, we use them in the majority of our nodes and digi’s here in the panhandle. Second to the MFJ 1270c that we use for real packet nodes where routing is needed.
Here is a good article on aprs.net on choosing a TNC for APRS, although most of this would also apply to general packet operations as well. It looks a bit old but still good.
For another good list of usable TNC’s see http://www.packetradio.com/windex/tnc.htm
To add to the list www.byonics.com also sells the TinyTrak4 that can be used as either a APRS tracker or a KISS TNC. It’s code is constantly being updated and more and more features are being added all the time. The byonics TinyTrak3+ is likely the most widely used APRS tracking device used today and it quite powerful with tied in to a GPS.
Along with this the Open Tracker is a very nice APRS tracker.
Just about any TNC made my MFJ, Timewave (AEA) or PacComm should have no trouble interfacing with just about any radio (even a scanner, if you just want to receive) without much effort, wiring diagrams can be had by doing simple searches for your TNC type and your radio model on the internet.
(Sound Card Interfaces) come in many shapes, sizes and of course price ranges. They can even be built from parts you might have laying around in your junk box.
The idea behind the software TNC is to transport the audio to and from your radio to your computers built in sound card using the mic/line in and speaker/line out jacks. Doing so moves the task of encoding and decoding the data packets to the PC.
Other than building your own interface one of the cheapest available is the RASCAL interface made by Buxcomm (www.buxcomm.com) where you can get a cable to match just about any radio on the planet.
There are also other interfaces by Tigertronics and RigBlaster.
KC2RLM.info has tons of useful sound card info available at http://www.kc2rlm.info/soundcardpacket/
Last but not least is the software end. The majority of the software that will be listed below can be used for packet and APRS using either a hardware TNC or a sound card interface.
The application that I feel does the best job of turning your computer into a huge TNC is AGW Packet Engine, aka, AWGPE (http://www.sv2agw.com/ham/agwpe.htm ). Using this software and any receiver to pump audio into your sound card one can be decoding packets in no time flat.
AGWPE is a great software package and allows the user to do many things via a radio and or TCP/IP (this does not mean the internet) For example one could take a small computer with AGWPE installed on it using either a hardware TNC or a sound card interface (or both really), connected to a radio and antenna and plugged into a building wide TCP/IP network and via software such as Winpack or WinAPRS remotely connect to the computer and send and receive data via the TNC just as if were directly connected to your local computer.
This gives you the advantage of connecting many people to the same device using minimal hardware plus keeping coax cables runs short in the process. The other advantage is being able to connect multiple devices to this computer via AGWPE and combining the data into single streams or crossing to other bands or modes. And even multiple AGWPE nodes to each other via TCP/IP. Neat stuff.
For straight up packet radio operating I like to use Winpack. As it allows me to configure a serial port for connecting to a TNC directly or a software port for connecting to AGWPE. Add with that if you are using a sound card or limited TNC it can act as a mailbox and BBS.
Almost any terminal program can be used with a hardware TNC. Hyper Terminal that in included with most every windows computer makes a quick and easy terminal should the need arise.
For APRS mapping I’m quite partial to WinAPRS, with tiger mapping.
Although AGWTracker and Xastir (for Linux) are very popular as well and can both be used with both types of TNC’s.
Some of the other devices that you will need will be things like
USB to serial adapters (if your computer doesn’t have a s real serial RS-232 port for direct keying of a radio or connection to a TNC)
USB or PCI or ISA Sound Card (to dedicate to a sound card interface)
GPS for connecting to your APRS Tracker
Misc. cables and parts and pieces from for building your own cables and interfaces can be found at the www.buxcomm.com website.
If one is looking to check out what APRS is and don’t want to purchase any equipment the best way to do so would be by visiting the www.findu.com webiste and http://aprs.fi website. Type in a callsign or a city name and start exploring.
I apologize for the sloppy article, but I hope this gives you an idea of just what’s availabe to one seeking to get in to packet or APRS be it for the first time or as a returning user.
I’m sure I missed alot of good links, software applications and hardware, please feel free to comment and hopefully I’ll find time to update and clean up this post with the most useful data