A few months back, I hit a real snag in my Winlink setup. At some point, my Surface GO 2 – post Win11 update – created a situation with Winlink where I couldn’t get the window to open reliably when establishing a VARA HF connection. The symptom was that the entire menu system in the session window was disabled. This was, at first, just annoying as it’s my portable setup and I wasn’t really doing that much Winlink from the field anyway. As I thought about it more, in an emergency, I would want my portable kit, ya know, to work.
I reactivated my Google account so that I could post to the support group in that ecosystem. I had some good back and forth. I even got on the phone with one of the support team members and walked them through screen sharing of what I was seeing. We reinstalled the Winlink package and VARA HF. Everything was flushed except the Windows 11 install itself. No one was seeing the issue but me. I struggle with that after all of these years of developing for the MS world, but someone will trip on it eventually. Or maybe a service pack will make it go away. In any case, I couldn’t get it to work. In fact, it *still* doesn’t work.
Shortly after that, RadioMail came out for iOS. I will freely admit to giving it a little side-eye. It doesn’t have a way to interface with a radio directly, so you need some kind of intermediary. A TNC or a modem of some sort. The worst configuration I could imagine was connecting RadioMail to VARA HF via WiFi on the Surface and then out to the IC-705. I mean, at that point, I’m better off looking at Winlink replacements that would keep everything on the Surface, right?
Curiosity got the better of me. I started to look at the Mobilinkd TNC4. It’s a modem for packet radio. It has the ability to connect via BLE and that means it can talk to iOS devices. That’s kinda neat, right? Now, yes, I do have a Kenwood TH-D74 that has a built in TNC and can do APRS on its own. But the IC-705 doesn’t have that and more often than not, that’s the rig I have in the field. The TH-D74 doesn’t solve for Winlink either. I decided to go for it.
I was one of the lucky ones to get a TNC4 in February. They keep selling out, which is a good sign for packet radio, I’d say! It was so easy to set up I thought that I did it wrong. It connected just fine and keyed up both the TH-D74 and the IC-705 in my simple tests. So it looked pretty good. But that wasn’t the hard part.
For living in the least hunted grid square on earth (EN91), there just aren’t a lot of packet gateways out there. I manged to find a couple that were close and they didn’t pick up. I decided to go wild and hook my IC-705 to my attic VHF/UHF antenna and see what that would do. In short order, the software was able to connect with WW8TF-10 which is a good 25 miles from my QTH. Seems likely that the other gateways weren’t online.
I was amazed. I received two messages and sent a test message in one session that moved very quickly. This is a pretty great thing for my portable setup. I always have my phone and the IC-705 with me in the field. The TNC4 is tiny. It’s not going to add much to my kit in the way of weight or volume, but it will add significant value and functionality in making it possible to send Winlink emails.
Now, it wouldn’t be a ham radio blog post if it didn’t include the laundry list of why this setup is not perfect. The only thing that I can say with a straight face is that it might disrupt my Winlink Wednesday if I’m in the field on a day when they want standard message forms attached as RadioMail doesn’t support that today. And yes, RadioMail costs like $15 or something in the App Store. I don’t mind paying for something useful like this that scratches an itch. Besides, $15? Really? I paid for the ICOM RS-BA1 software to run my IC-705 over WiFi when that should be included with the rig when you buy it as it unlocks a significant piece of functionality that likely drove the purchase of the radio. Thus, I am not losing sleep over RadioMail.
In related news, my Dad (AC8NT) and I are looking at setting up a packet repeater/gateway situation. I’ve got a Raspberry Pi set up for Direwolf and he’s got a portable 25 watt rig that he’s wired up some isolation for that we can use. If we can get it placed somewhere high enough, we might be able to add to the packet coverage in the area. Sounds like good, clean fun to me!
More on this packet adventure as things progress. Next up: packet mobile using the VHF/UHF antenna on the Jeep. Stay tuned…