At the April 8th meeting of the Green Bay Mike & Key Club, Dennis, KC9OIS had an ARES report on a demonstration of a mobile Winlink station and it's emergency email capability.
The station was setup by Outagamie County ARES at the Paper Valley Hotel in conjunction with the WI ARES/RACES at the WI Governor’s Conference in March on Emergency Management....
While the demonstration was successful, John, NA9J and my (Dennis, KC9OIS's) messages never reached their destination successfully.
Paul, N5XMV writes:
I don't see the purpose of continuing to find new ways to use Ham Radio, whether for experimental, emergency, or commercial use, if the average Ham is not able to understand the full concept, build it, and implement it... What happens when it fails, reach over, and get a new piece out of a stockpile of new stuff??
Paul, N5XMV, makes a good point. Emergency communications weakest link is in the operator behind the equipment.
At the same time, exercises and demonstrations like this let you experience the mistakes and correct them before the time comes that you actually need to rely on it. My question is what is being done to prevent a repeat performance?
I don't know much about how the Winlink network works. But it seems to me that if "emergency" messages can be lost, this is Not a well thought out design.
Are outdated networking protocols are the basis of Winlink? It sound like a kludge of much how the old KA-nodes worked, and the hierarchical BBS message forwarding using a system of mail rewrites and mail exchangers.
RFC's for SMTP mail delivery ensure that the sender should get a return message in the event that a message is undeliverable to to a broken path route or server being down. If Winlink cannot at the very least support this, perhaps it's time to re-think the network topology.
Think "real-time network" .... it can be done. In the 90's we here in Wisconsin could test the deliverability of a message with the ping command.
traceroute is another good network debugging tool.
Here is an old reference on Emergency Operations and Packet Radio
Here is some interesting history on Winlink.
July, 2003: In cooperation with its partnership with Homeland Security & at their recommendation, the ARRL Board sought to provide a Nationwide digital system to enhance the communications capability of the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) There are situations, the Board said, when ARES "must have the capability to pass digital traffic across the Nation quickly and accurately.
ARRL Resources Volunteer Committee determined that the new network should: provide rapid transfer of emergency traffic between sections; use available and future digital modes, interface with commercial communications systems such as conventional telephone, cellular telephone, and the Internet, etc., have speed, performance and accuracy.
The digital network will provide a value-added service for ARES and will continue to be viewed very positively by our served agencies," the committee said in its report. "This allows ARES to be viewed as modern and necessary instead of antiquated and invasive."
A quote from the former FCC Director of Engineering and Technology:
In the past, hams have adopted more spectrally efficient technologies - for example, by migrating from double-sideband amplitude modulation to single-sideband modulation and, more recently, by shifting to more efficient modulation for digital modes. I would urge you to continue shifting towards more spectrally efficient communications techniques - especially digital techniques. Such a shift has a number of benefits:
First of all, it demonstrates to policymakers and regulators that you are good stewards of the public's airwaves even without direct economic incentives.
Second, by using what you have efficiently, it strengthens your case when you need to ask for additional spectrum.
Third, by allowing more users to access the available allocations simultaneously, it improves the amateur experience and ultimately increases the attractiveness of the service to new and old users alike.
Fourth, it provides the opportunity or "headroom" for increases in data rates to more closely match those available on wire line networks and, in the future, on commercial wireless networks as well.
Fifth, as the rest of the telecommunications world makes the transition to digital techniques - and there are very few exceptions to that trend - the amateur service will look antiquated if it is not making progress in that direction as well. So looking to the future of the amateur radio service in the new century, I would urge you to continue your traditional role in public service by being prepared for and providing communications in times of emergencies, conducting experiments, providing training in radio communications, and encouraging international comity. But I would also urge you to focus particular attention -- for the reasons I just mentioned -- on experimentation with digital techniques."
So far the basis of Winlink on a county/state level seems to rely on 30 year old packet radio technology.
For example it will take over and hour to send a 540 KB .xls file of names... or in just a half an hour you might be able to send a 270 KB attachment at 1200 baud.
So even if the demonstration messages would have made it, Winlink still appears as a failure to me in that regard.