Data Communications

On This Page

EMRG Data Communications Plan
AGW Packet Engine
Handheld Devices
Packet Applications That Are Not Used

Additional Information

Personal Preparations


Data Communications and the EMRG view of how it will be provided, have changed significantly over the last few years. EMRG and Amateur radio in general used always used the name Packet Radio, which meant Data Communications, since packet radio was really the only option.

Things have changed and now there are numerous modern software applications, and new digital transmission technologies. Packet Radio is still used, but it is now viewed as just a transmission technology, a connectivity solution or pipe from point a to b, not the whole solution in itself. The days of typing commands on a dumb terminal are gone. Modern software applications hide the back-end technical aspect of packet radio, providing a user friendly, email like interface that almost anyone can use with no training.

These modern software applications allow multiple types of digital transmission technologies to co-exist, allowing seamless integration and maximization of Amateur radio equipment and infrastructure.

EMRG Data Communications Presentations

There are several EMRG presentations that provide an idea of what EMRG is doing with data communications.

EMRG Data Communications Plan

There is no single data communications solution that meets all the needs and expectations for EMRG. For this reason, the EMRG Data Communications Service is made up of two parallel, yet integrated solutions.

1. EMRG Basic Data Communications

Basic Data Communications service can be summarized as text based, using Outpost as the end user application, connecting to a TNC BBS. Outpost with a TNC BBS provides simplicity, making it easier to keep working if a disaster has impacted EMRG infrastructure.

Basic data communications is easy to deploy as a portable solution, requiring only a radio and TNC, plus it allows EMRG to provide Mutual Aid for Renfrew County West ARES where this solution is also being used.

2. EMRG Enhanced Data Communications

Enhanced Data Communications Service can be summarized as using Winlink to provide email capability with attachments, using an Internet connection and local routing if the Internet connection fails. The Winlink system provides much greater capabilities, while requiring more complex network support.

Enhanced data communications allows communications through email to locations with Internet access and allows EMRG to provide Mutual Aid for neighbouring ARES groups who are using the Winlink system.

More information will be added as we have time.

Support For AGW Packet Engine

Support for AGW Packet Engine is required to provide shared access over wired or wireless LAN. This is essential for EMRG computers in key sites such as EMRG Communications Room, Red Cross and the EOC.

  • This is also a possible solution for shelter deployment
  • The end user software (Outpost, Paclink, RMS Packet) does not work directly with all TNCs, while AGW Packet Engine works with a large set of TNCs.


DSTAR is the ICOM proprietary data communications network that can provide low speed data on VHF or UHF and high speed (128kb) data on 1.2 GHz. There are many stories within Amateur radio about the need for high speed data communications capability for emergency communications, and some of these stories may be true. It is important to separate client requirements from the Amateur urge to deploy new technology.

The issue with DSTAR is not whether it is good or bad, rather it is whether a group has a requirement for which DSTAR is the best technical and most economical solution. For EMRG there is currently no requirement for high speed data, and for low speed data, 1200 baud packet radio meets EMRG requirements at a much lower cost. One of the common stories used to justify high speed data using DStar refers to the need to send pictures so emergency officials can respond to situations. In reality, emergency officials will not wait for a picture to react, nor would a picture be of great assistance in assessing the stability of a dam for example.

DSTAR - Packet Cost Comparison

Icom has produced a fact sheet comparing the costs of DSTAR with packet radio. The comparison is very simplistic, assuming everything is purchased new and ignoring the need to interface with applications to create a useful data communications solution. For low speed data, even if new equipment is purchased the costs for 1200 B packet is still lower than DStar. Compare a TNC ($250) + VHF/UHF dual band mobile radio ($300), with the cost of a DV DStar VHF/UHF dual band mobile ($660). Now add in the cost of a digital repeater, plus a second for redundancy. With packet, a digital repeater is a TNC + radio, so the cost is $550. What is the cost for a VHF or UHF DStar repeater?

In Ottawa there are a limited number of DStar radio owners, so any use of DStar must include backup radios in the cost. For packet, any VHF or UHF radio can be used and there are lots of radios available, so no new backup radios are required.


There is one DStar repeater, located in Ottawa. Any use of DStar through a repeater would be limited to Ottawa and since neighbouring groups are using packet, there is no compatibility. While there may be a situation where DStar point to point links could be used for Mutual Aid, DStar is a lot of work and expense for a solution that is potentially not useful.

Repeater Durability

There is only 1 DStar repeater in Ottawa and the long term survivability of this system, its ownership group and its survivability in an emergency is not known at this time. Some basic items to know for an emergency repeater is whether the repeater is on backup generator power and would the site be refuelled in an emergency?

DSTAR Potential

For EMRG the potential of DStar is for high speed backbone links. There is no 9600 Baud packet equipment in Ottawa, so any use of speeds higher than 1200B packet would require a new TNC ($600) plus a new radio ($300) and there are limited radios available that support 9600 Baud. The cost of a DStar 1.2 GHz radio is about $1000, so it is cost competitive with 9600 Baud packet, however the DStar radio can provide much higher throughput.There is no requirement for high speed backbone links at this time, so little thought has been put into how they might be configured. It might be a point to point link, connecting packet digipeaters, or it might go through the DStar repeater.

For now the focus of EMRG is to create a working, deployable solution. This includes end user applications, intermediate servers and access solutions for large sealed buildings. Over time, clients may see opportunities to use the data communications solution and if the throughput of packet is not sufficient, then DStar may be a solution to enhance the service by increasing the speed of some components in the system.


APRS (Automatic Position Reporting System) is often included in discussions about data communications, based on it’s text message capability and the GPS tracking.

GPS Tracking

The GPS tracking capability could be useful for monitoring vehicles that do not have an amateur radio operator, such as a delivery truck or Red Cross team in the field. To be effective, this would require EMRG having several tracker kits ready to deploy, with the radio, GPS and TNC built into a small case only requiring the external antennas and DC power. Based on current work load and priorities, EMRG has no plans to implement APRS tracking capability in the near future.

Text Messages

EMRG has no plans utilize APRS text message capability. The requirement for sending text based messages is for larger volumes of information. There are also issues of network congestion and end user equipment that would need to be resolved.

Handheld Devices

There are many hand held devices available today that can provide email capability, often called a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). Many of these support some type of interface such as a serial port, WiFi or Bluetooth, that can allow the hand held device to interface with an Amateur radio data communications solution. While this is an interesting application, there is no requirement at this time to deliver data to these types of devices.

Packet Applications That Are Not Used

There are several applications still currently in use and in some cases being updated for packet radio networks. These particular applications have been considered by EMRG and are not considered useful for EMRG at this time, either due to not having a requirement and the complexity and effort to build and configure the network.


Winpac was a very popular as a packet client with BBS interfacing. Winpac is no longer supported, and does not have an email like user interface, so EMRG will not include Winpac.


There are several BBS applications written for the PC, starting back in the DOS era. The most notable is FBB6, which was originally created for DOS, and later updated for Windows. Implementing a BBS on a PC requires more hardware, which is hardware the requires more power and there is additional complexity to implement and manage the BBS. EMRG will focus on the TNC BBS due to its low power, simplicity and portability.

BPQ Switch

BPQ is a PC application that allows packet channel switching. The user connects to the BPQ site using packet radio and then can select channels to connect to. This allows links on other bands or speeds to multiple BBS or other destinations. Written originally for DOS, there are now windows versions and interfaces for AGWPE. While an interesting component, it requires much greater user skill and understanding. The EMRG plan is built on simplicity where radio connections are as direct as possible and not dependent on the type of radio link, so implementing a switch for packet radio is not required or desirable.