October 1997- Page 4
(plus the part of this article that continued on page 5 in the printed TARA News)

Gateways to the World
Packet's Best Kept Secret

Written By: Bill Baran, N2FNH

OK, so you've just received your brand new Technician Class Amateur Radio License in the mail. You've got your hand-held dual band radio parked on your hip, a mobile rig installed in the car. You already bought the repeater directory and you've joined the TARA club. Antennas are popping up where ever you can plant them and now, as you look over your inventory, you say to yourself: "What's next?" Packet Radio comes to mind and you think: "OK, packet..." "Yeah that's reading Bulletin Board messages and doing APRS." You have no idea what APRS is but you know you'll be hearing about it soon enough. Something that you may not hear about right away is that Packet Radio can be used to contact other Amateur Radio Operators not just locally but also globally. You can have real-time conversations with stations around the United States and it's also possible to connect to hams in many other countries. It's this method of establishing a QSO that I want to talk about.

First, let's make some BIG ASSUMPTIONS:- You've decided to get into Packet. You've bought the radio, you've got the TNC, you've either resuscitated some ancient IBM computer or you're going to invest in a shiny new laptop or integrate the packet station into your existing Pentium-driven platform. Doesn't matter. Whatever works!

You've learned enough information to successfully run the computer, properly manage the TNC, and have gained enough knowledge to manipulate the local BBS and to navigate the local packet Network.

You've already heard everyone say that packet is SO-O-O-O-O SL-O-O-O-O-W, why would you bother with it when you can play with the World Wide Web and GOREALFAST!!! and you have decided "WHATSTHERUSH???" So it's slow, what do I have, a train to catch?"

Now, you're ready to do some serious connecting. Suddenly you realize: "How Do I Get There From Here?" and that's a good question! If you were using HF Phone or CW, you could get there with a good band opening, that is, favorable ionospheric propagation, plain old "skip." On VHF, it's another story, what you need is something called a Packet<->Internet Gateway. A Packet<->Internet Gateway is a system which receives Packet Radio signals and then ramps them right into the fast lane of the Super Information Highway a.k.a.the Internet. The Internet is the transport medium here, used in the same way you would use the Ionosphere to carry HF radio signals or Tropospheric Ducting to support long haul VHF/UHF communications. This is the way You Get There From Here! In order to finish Getting There, you need another Gateway as your port of call. (How we obtain information on these Gateways comes later). Once at the distant Gateway, you've got options. Most Gates are specialized BBSs and offer "message areas" or messages by category. Read what interests you or access the hard drive and scope out whatever significant bits the sysop deems worthy of downloading. All Packet<-> Internet Gateways offer some form of E-mail. It's free but there are restrictions and we can cover this stuff later.

A key feature usually offered is connectivity to their local packet network with a path to the individual packet stations themselves. This is one of two ways

  you can establish an international keyboard-to-keyboard conversation. The other method uses a feature known as a Converse Bridge. A Converse Bridge is the same as Internet Relay Chat except that it's honed for amateur radio use. Here, you can talk to many people at once in a sprawling channelized digital party line.

Now, as it happens, there are no Packet<->Internet Gateways available in the Capital Region for general use but this is not a problem. Using the local Packet network, you can string a couple of nodes together and connect yourself to Plattsburgh where AMGATE lives or push your way into the Metropolitan New York/New Jersey area and link up with IPMF, IPNENJ and NEJHUB. By the way, names like AMGATE are referred to as an "alias" and are usually easier to remember than those less colorful callsigns. AMGATE is KA2TCQ and is, by far, the most popular Gateway for Hams in the Capital Region. When you check nodes lists and see an alias with "IP", "TCP" or "GATE" as part of the name, it's an indication you have found a Gateway.

Now, let's get connecting! There are any number of ways to make your way through the local network. Here are just a few path strategies to begin with: From 144.95MHz, your path is: C SRTGA5/C NYPLB/C N2IXL-7/C AMGATE S. Notice that when you connect to AMGATE, you're adding an "S" for savings. That's for N2IXL-7, which is a Kantronics Ka-node. The "S" tells N2IXL-7 to remain connected to NYPLB even if AMGATE for some reason drops the connection. If the command was just C AMGATE and AMGATE failed to hold its connection, then N2IXL-7 would drop as well, leaving you still connected to NYPLB. Now, you can bypass N2IXL-7 and do a C AMGATE but the throughput is slower due to congestion and added distance from the Gateway. From 145.01MHz, your path is: C SRTGA1/C GFL/C NYPLB/C N2IXL-7/C AMGATE S. Unlike SRTGA5, SRTGA1 does not "know" how to route directly to NYPLB so you need an extra node. If GFL ain't your scene, do GFL9 or ESSEX.

OK, so now you've strung your nodes and you're connected to AMGATE. What now? First thing you do is send an E-mail to the sysop. Do this by sending a: s n2ixl@ka2tcq.ampr.org. N2IXL is Darrell, one of the sysops and also the owner of the Ka-node we mentioned before. You will be prompted for a subject and then for the message with instructions on how to wrap up and send off the message. Usually within a day, you will find a response with bigtime information on something called TELNET. Telnet is a part of a suite of protocols known as TCP/IP which stands for Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol, the tools used for cruising the Internet high seas. Telnet is the means by which a local computer(in this case, the computer at AMGATE) communicates with another remote computer, your distant port of call. With regular Packet, you use the "connect" command and an alias or callsign like C TARA7 or C WA2UMX-1. When you telnet, you use the "telnet" command and an IP address like T or T These IP addresses look a little like telephone numbers and in a way, that's exactly what they are. That's because every computer that's tied into the Internet has a unique 32 bit address to call its own. Getting these IP addresses requires a little help. At AMGATE, a number of the users, myself included, share information like this by joining an E-maildriven INFO group which provides path information on many sites around the world and if you can hang on till next time, I will offer a good operating strategy for locating, accessing and just plain old hacking your way into a typical Packet<->Internet Gateway. More Later