Emails Over Radio

The modern cellular network is a marvel of technological advancement that we often take for granted now. With 5G service it’s easy to do plenty of things on-the-go that would have been difficult or impossible even with a broadband connection to a home computer two decades ago. But it’s still reliant on being close to cell towers, which isn’t true for all locations. If you’re traveling off-grid and want to communicate with others, this guide to using Winlink can help you send emails using a ham radio.

While there are a number of ways to access the Winlink email service, this guide looks at a compact, low-power setup using a simple VHF/UHF handheld FM radio with a small sound card called a Digirig. The Digirig acts as a modem for the radio, allowing it to listen to digital signals and pass them to the computer to decode. It can also activate the transmitter on the radio and send the data from the computer out over the airwaves. When an email is posted to the Winlink outbox, the software will automatically send it out to any stations in the area set up as a gateway to the email service.

Like the cellular network, the does rely on having an infrastructure of receiving stations that can send the emails out to the Winlink service on the Internet; since VHF and UHF are much more limited in range than HF this specific setup could be a bit limiting unless there are other ham radio operators within a few miles. This guide also uses VARA, a proprietary protocol, whereas the HF bands have an open source protocol called ARDOP that can be used instead. This isn’t the only thing these Digirig modules can be used for in VHF/UHF, though. They can also be used for other digital modes like JS8Call, FT8, and APRS.

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