Some Useful Ham Radio Resources
Analogue Voice Repeater Lists
SOTA (Summits on the Air)
- SOTA UK – The main SOTA website.
- The SOTA Database – This is where participants upload their activator and chasers logs.
- SOTAwatch – This is where all the live, real time action happens. See who is activating which summit right now and what is planned for the next few days.
- SOTA Reflector – This forum is where SOTA meets to discuss everything from mountains to antennas including reports from Activators.
- SOTA Mapping Project – The SOTA Mapping Project provides activators and chasers with various mapping resources and utilities including a real time display of activations.
Elevation & Propagation
- Ground heights map – Good for finding big hills!
- Google Maps – Useful for finding roads, paths and checking ground types.
- Line-of-sight tool – For helping to estimate propagation.
Location & Co-ordinates Tools
The user guide for the Pakratt PK-232 (pdf) also serves as a very good introduction to packet radio!
Packet Radio (AX25) Nodes & Mailboxes Lists
Required Equipment for VHF
Antenna – Radio – TNC – Computer
- 2 metre radio. A transceiver is required to transmit and receive. Alternatively, to just monitor, a receiver/scanner capable of receiving would do. The most common packet frequency in the UK is 144.950MHz (FM), but bear in mind there is also packet activity on other frequencies (see section, above) including the 70cm band.
- Computer. When using a TNC, the computer’s role is to enable you to type/send commands and messages to the TNC/radio, and to display responses and messages from the TNC/radio. Because the computer is effectively a dumb terminal for the TNC, the computer does not need to be connected or switched on all the time.
- Terminal node controller (TNC). A TNC is a piece of hardware that handles the incoming and outgoing packets of data. It connects the radio to the computer, and can essentially be thought of as a modem for packet radio. A popular TNC is the Pakratt PK-232. Also, Kantronics have a few models. Both pop up on eBay from time to time. (Incidentally, an alternative to a TNC is to use software-based TNC-equivalent but, in that case, your packet station would be down whenever your computer wasn’t connected and running.)
- Computer to TNC connection. You need to connect the serial port of your TNC to your computer. Unless you are using a very old computer, it’s unlikely to have a serial port, so that is where a USB-to-serial converter saves the day, as it effectively turns one of your computer’s USB ports into a COM port. You may need to install a driver for the USB-to-serial converter. After that, connect the converter and make a note of the COM port number that has been created. (Alternatively, just look in your computer’s Device Manager to find the COM port number.)
- Computer software. A popular software solution to enable your computer and TNC to communicate is PuTTy, which is compatible with most/all modern computers. It’s easy to set up. I recommend these PuTTy settings for packet radio:
- Serial line: COM11 (replace this with whatever your COM port was, from the previous step)
- Speed: 9600
- Connection type: Serial.
- (You can then Save these settings in a session, so you can conveniently Load them in future.)
- Radio to TNC connection. This is the final part of the jigsaw, and perhaps the trickiest. You will need to look up the pin-out diagram for the VHF port of the your TNC, along with the mic connector diagram for your transceiver. With those two diagrams, you should be able to work out which pin on the TNC connects to which pin on the radio’s mic socket and external speaker socket. As well as the cable, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate connector for the TNC and the appropriate connector for the radio’s mic input. You will need a mono audio connector and cable, too, for the radio’s speaker socket. Help is always available, but if you don’t fancy making your own leads, there are sellers on eBay (e.g., this one) who sell transceiver mic leads but can also make custom leads.
If buying a second hand TNC, be wary of buying one without leads as it may be less likely to work than a complete package. From my own experience, there’s more chance of receiving a working TNC if it came from a genuine shack clearance, for example, than an old unit that’s been dragged out of someone’s garage/attic.
Standard Packet Radio SSIDs
There are sixteen SSIDs (Secondary Station IDentifiers), ranging from 0 to 15, that can be appended to callsigns (e.g., G7MKK-1).
Here are the SSIDs as recommended by the Working Group for Operational Standards:
- None (0) – For home stations. The zero is implied and should not be appended – e.g., G7MKK rather than G7MKK-0.
- 1 – Home station personnal mailboxes (usually a TNC-based PBBS) – e.g., G7MKK-1.
- 2 – Gateways.
- 3 – Full-service BBSs (Bulletin Board Services). Those that forward mail/bulletins.
- 4 – Network nodes. Having two or more radio ports that perform routing functions via TCP/IP, NetROM, etc. Can be combined with BBS’s that also perform routing.
- 5 – Console/keyboard or printer.
- 6 – Conference bridges.
- 7 – NetROM/X1J/Knet/BPQ nodes.
- 8 – Cross-band digipeaters.
- 9 – Mobile / modats.
- 10 – Winlink 2000 email.
- 11 – Unassigned.
- 12 – Unassigned.
- 13 – Unassigned.
- 14 – Unassigned.
- 15 – Often used as a downlink address when exiting the far end of a network connection.
Useful TNC Commands
Most of the following commands are mixed case – e.g.,
MYcall. They are written like this to show that you don’t have to type the command name in full – e.g., you could just enter
MY instead of
First of all, you’ll need to set your callsign and the date/time in you TNC. It’s also good to enabled timestamps when monitoring traffic.
Check your current callsign:
Set your callsign (e.g., to G7MKK):
Set date and time (e.g., to 2021-01-14 13:42:00):
Add timestamp to monitored packets:
Include date in timestamp of monitored packets – PakRatt only:
Digipeating means digital repeating. It is the simplest means by which a station can forward/relay communication to another station that would be otherwise out of reach. (For example if station A can’t itself hear station C, it may succeed if it tries to connect via station B.) Most packet stations can be used as digipeaters by default.
Make your station a digipeater – PakRatt only:
Set alternative (and exclusive) digipeater identity (e.g., to first six characters of village/town name):
Monitor other stations using you as a digipeater – PakRatt only:
Log timestamp of when other stations connect- PakRatt only:
Make alert sound when another station connects- PakRatt only:
Monitoring Other Stations
You can monitor the airwaves (usually a set frequency – e.g., 144.800 MHz or 144.950 MHz) to view communication and see which stations are within range.
Set monitor level (0 = off, 4 = default, 6 = max) – PakRatt only:
Set monitor level (ON or OFF) – Kantronics only:
Show list of recently heard stations:
Connecting to Another Station
You may want to connect to another station for a live chat (in converse mode), or to a mailbox or to a node.
Connect directly to a local station (e.g., G7LGT):
Connect to a distant station (e.g., G7LGT) via a digipeater (e.g., G7ABC):
Connect G7LGT Via G7ABC
Connect to a distant station (e.g., G7LGT) via two digipeaters:
C G7LGT V G7ABC, G7DEF
Most/all TNCs will include mailbox functionality. Also known as Maildrop or PBBS (personal bulletin board system), they are used to leave text messages for other stations.
Set your mailbox callsign (e.g., to G7MKK-1) – PakRatt only:
Set your mailbox callsign (e.g., to G7MKK-1) – Kantronics only:
Enable stations to leave messages for each other – PakRatt only:
Set connect-message – PakRatt only:
MTExt Welcome to my PBBS. Please leave a message for me (G7MKK) or any other station. Cheers, James. Type H for help.
Turn mailbox on – PakRatt only:
Monitor mailbox operation – PakRatt only:
Monitor mailbox operation – Kantronics only:
Enter your mailbox – PakRatt only:
Mailbox Operation – PakRatt only
These are the commands that can commonly be used once you’re “in” (i.e., connected to) a mailbox – including your own.
List all messages:
Read message #1:
Send message (e.g., to G7LGT). End your message with
Send a bulletin (e.g., a welcome message for everyone that accesses your mailbox):
SB ALL Hiya, Thanks for connecting to my PBBS. To send a message to an individual station, enter "S <callsign>". To post a bulletin message, enter "SB ALL". I hope to hear from you! :-) Cheers, James, Holmfirth [IO93co]
Delete (kill) message (e.g., message #2):
Exit (bye) mailbox:
When a station connects to you, you can customise the text they are shown.
Set text to show to a station when it connects:
CText Hiya, James here in Holmfirth [IO93co]. If I'm away from my shack, please leave a message in my PBBS, G7MKK-1.
Show the CTEXT text when another station connects:
Some TNCs call also function as a node – e.g., a PakRatt PK-232MBX with the node firmware upgrade. (Node operation is different from simple digipeating. When people access your node, they are actually logging in to your terminal. From there, they can check other what other stations can be heard, and connect to them, etc.)
Set node callsign:
Set maximum numbers of concurrent connections (where each connection will take up two of your ten channels):
You can set up your TNC to send out a brief broadcast message every few minutes. This will help other stations find you – either in real time or when they execute the
MHEARD command on their TNC.
Set beacon message:
BText James, Holmfirth [IO93co]. PBBS: G7MKK-1. Node: G7MKK-7.
Transmit beacon message every 15 minutes (that’s 10 seconds multiplied by 90):
Beacon EVERY 90
Stop transmitting beacon message:
Beacon EVERY 0