Packet Radio With Soundcards Including APRS

This summer I decided to explore a bit more about packet radio. You know, transmitting small amounts of information over amateur radio frequencies at very slow speeds. Prior to the advent of fairly ubiquitous high speed Internet connections this was a popular way for hams to move around information related to their activities. As it turns out the need for a dedicated packet modem (TNC) has gone away and the functionality can now be replaced with software and a sound card. One of my specific interests though was in learning about and improving the APRS system in the Twin Cities which allows people to automatically send GPS position information along with remote weather station packets and a variety of other small pieces of data. As it turns out APRS data can also be sent and received with a soundcard attached to a radio, forgoing the TNC and reducing the barrier to entry.

The primary program for soundcard TNC emulation is a free program called AGWPE and my first task was to learn how to setup and configure it as some of my firends had tried and failed to get it working in the past. Thanks to the great resources on the Internet I came upon the website of KC2RLM which contained excellent instructions for setting up and using the AGWPE program as well as a number of applications which would interact with the software.

Once I had gotten the basic soundcard TNC software up and running the next step was to start experimenting with APRS software. I tried lots of software including the common UI-View32 software but found the easiest to use and most modern software to be AGWTracker, a trialware program by the maker of AGWPE which supports all kinds of map layers such as Google Maps, MapPoint, etc. greatly improving the user experience. Of course, if you want to send updates back to the APRS-IS Internet network you need a password to go along with your callsign. As it turns out the password is a simple hashing algorithm designed just to prevent non-hams for injecting data into the network and is a documented algorithm. You can get your own APRS password or learn more about the algorithm at the APRS Password Generator website.

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