The Delaware Packet Network (DEPN) objective is to promote and document the development of Community-Based RF-Linked Amateur Radio AX.25 and VARA Terrestrial Packet Network within the State of Delaware and surrounding areas.

Assistance with Packet radio networking using TNC Nodes, Winlink Gateways, Digipeaters, and NETROM Nodes is also available.

If you are interested in setting up and hosting a Network Node, or need assistance setting up a packet station, please contact us using the Contact page.

Why AX.25 Packet Over Radio

Years before the Internet (World Wide Web), email, cellphones and texting, there was an error-free digital communications network built by ham radio operators using VHF/UHF/HF radios. This network was made up of nodes and digipeaters, connected using radios on amateur radio frequencies (RF), and reached to the corners of the globe. Amateur Radio operators sent messages, announcements, bulletins and small files to each other, enjoyed QSO’s via keyboard-to-keyboard chat, and node hopping across town and across the country and beyond.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Amateur Packet Radio was extremely popular, inexpensive to start and easy to setup. The coolest thing about Amateur Packet Radio was that it was ours, built and maintained by hams. The saddest thing about Amateur Packet Radio was that we, as hams, let it (almost) die. However, over recent years, there has been a resurgence in AX.25 Packet Radio with groups installing nodes, BBS’s, Chat Servers, and rebuilding the RF Backbones creating and linking local networks. Some of these local networks have added RF links to other regional networks linking each other farther extending the network. The network is growing with new nodes and digipeaters being added every day.

With network Nodes rebuilding their RF backbones and links, along with emergency power backup, AX.25 Packet Networks will be crucial during times needed for emergency communications when commercial resources are not available.

Winlink vs. AX.25 Packet Radio

Today, when most hams hear ‘packet radio’ they usually think of APRS or Winlink. While APRS and Winlink use AX.25 protocols, AX.25 Packet Networks are quite different. Winlink can use many different modes of relaying messages, including Telnet, VARA, Pactor, as well as AX.25 protocols. What sets our objectives apart is that we are focusing on building our RF Backbones and not relying on commercial services. Many AX.25 Nodes offer Winlink RMS ports.

What can you do with Amateur Packet Radio?

Hams that use AX.25 packet radio enjoy:

  • Easy and inexpensive to get started (You may already have everything you need!)
  • Keyboard to Keyboard Chats and World-Wide Chat server
  • Error-Free Store and Forward messaging and file share using Full-Service BBS’ and other network protocol applications
  • Intelligent Network Routing between NETROM nodes – Network nodes use Broadcasts to build network
  • Emergency Communications (EMCOMM) – AX.25 Packet Radio is easy to configure, deploy and is portable. Many network nodes/BBS’ run on emergency power and will be available when commercial services go down.

Getting Started with AX.25 Packet Radio

Getting started today with AX.25 Packet Radio is easy and inexpensive. Hardware Terminal Node Controllers (TNC’s) from years ago are still capable of being used today and are either stored in your closet or can be inexpensively purchased. Several hardware TNC’s are still being manufactured today. Besides a hardware option, software modems and terminal programs are available for free, such as UZ7HO’s Sound Modem and EasyTerm programs for Windows users. Another popular AX.25 soundmodem is the DireWolf Soundmodem. These software programs, along with a computer soundcard or radio sound interface such as a Signalink or Digital Radio Adapter are an easy and inexpensive way to get on the air and start enjoying Amateur Packet Radio.

Building an AX.25 Packet Network

An AX.25 Packet Network is built using Nodes, such as network layer protocols NET/ROM, X1J, ROSE, K-Net, and/or Ka-Nodes and digipeaters. Most Kantronics hardware TNC’s, especially the later firmware versions, include Ka-Node and/or K-Net functionality. Other TNC’s offer node functionality with firmware upgrades.

The simplest method for an AX.25 packet station to add to building a local network is to enable the digipeater function of the TNC. This will allow local stations to digipeat through the packet station to increase range. However, there are some downsides to digipeating. Digipeating is good for short hops. Packets are acknowledged between each end-to-end sender and receiver. If a packet is lost between sender and receiver, the entire packet is lost and must be resent.

Popular NET/ROM Network compatible node software includes BPQ32 and JNOS. Both are relatively easy to get started, install and maintain. Versions are available for Windows, Linux, and even Raspberry Pi installations. A NET/ROM compatible node offers the greatest method of connecting to the rest of the world via RF-Linked nodes, AMPRNet, AXIP or HF packet. The advantage of a NET/ROM compatible node is that each node sends out a broadcast which builds and updates routes. Also, packets are acknowledged between nodes instead of requiring nodes or stations downstream to acknowledge each packet.

The KA-Node, featured in most Kantronics TNC’s, is a simple packet-networking node, when enabled, the station can be used by other stations, not only as a digipeater but also as a node, helping them to find pathways to other stations that they can not reach. KA-Nodes, like other networking nodes such as NET/ROM, operate more efficiently than do digipeaters as a link between two stations. End-to-end acknowledgement of received packets is not required with the nodes; instead they handle errors between each other, rather than from end to end (which can cause extra traffic when errors or interference occurs). A KA-Node, however, is “silent” in that it does not automatically connect to and exchange routing data with adjacent nodes, as do fully featured nodes such as NET/ROM, X1J, or Kantronics K-Net.

Active Packet Radio Stations/Nodes in Delaware

Map of active Delaware area packet stations and nodes is available here. Add your packet station to the Delaware area map of active packet stations and nodes here.

Regional Mid-Atlantic AX.25 Packet Meet

DEPN hosts the Regional Mid-Atlantic AX.25 Packet Meeting every 2nd Saturday via Zoom. For meeting invites, please subscribe to our mailing list below or check your local packet BBS.

Meeting topics and objectives:

  • Assist newcomers and those returning to packet radio
  • Discuss plans/progress on RF Linking of local NetROM Nodes/BBS’ and AX.25 Backbone progress/status
  • Progress/Promoting of VHF and HF VARA ports to local/regional nodes
  • Coordination of forwarding partners in geographic areas
  • Promote interest in additional Community-Based Nodes/BBS’ to fill in low coverage areas
  • EMCOMM preparedness, NTS Traffic Handling, forms and Emergency Backup
  • Discuss/Demonstrate, if requested, the basics of setting up and hosting a Node/BBS using BPQ32
  • Questions/Suggestions 

If you have questions, would like to participate in an email discussion group regarding packet radio operations within the State of Delaware, or get invitations to any packet radio networking meetings, please feel free to subscribe to our email group.

This site will be updated frequently – Last update: July 9, 2024