Winlink – Mature, Stable, Reliable, what next?
Winlink is a hard topic to discuss in part because of its complexity but also because it can be used and configured in many ways. It is available 24/7, 100% reliable, functions without the Internet and provides communications across the world, BUT there are complicated conditions and restrictions that place reasonable boundaries on its performance. That said, Winlink is the most extensible and developed message communications system available.Recent revisions such as the RMS Relay version 3 (November 2013) do protect much of the system from the loss of the Internet and preserve much of the systems functionality through "radio only" links.
I f I had one criticism of Winlink, it would be that it is not deployed or used enough to make it a scalable 24/7 national/worldwide network.So, how would Winlink fit in to the proposed EHN? I would argue that Winlonk is a message system built on top of a variety of message links. These links can be HF modems, Packet Systems, Mesh systems and the Internet.The EHN could become a new set of message links that could be adopted into Winlink. If the EHN concept of creating a digital network across America operating 24/7 ever became operational, Winlink would be one of the biggest users. I see no technical need to change Winlink for it to operate on the EHN.
I see benefits to Winlink from becoming connected to the EHN, there could be a whole new class of user linking through the Part 15 links. See my blog on PhonePatch. Imagine all the schools, youth groups and individuals who might want to send traffic through the system and how that might create interest in Ham Radio. In turn that would encourage more Hams to support their own RMS. Since much of this growth would be in urban communities and that suggests VHF/UHF links, this would improve the resilience of WInlink and improve its potential revenue from donations.
If you look at the map of active Winlink nodes it is concentrated in or at the edge of many urban populations and because it is all on the HF frequencies, local connectivity is difficult. I appreciate the map does not show any local packet links, but the likelihood is that local coverage is sparse and unable to scale. Short point to point and links using Part 15 , as proposed in the EHN End Node would expand the local coverage of a Winlink network and make the service available to many more users all without them needing to use the Internet. Its a balance, the extensive HF links of the current Winlink network would complimented by the local connectivity of the EHN.
Winlink clients are more available and better supported on Windows, but there are two recent developments that look interesting for the EHN, an Android client WoAD and a multi OS independent client called Pat. Through these clients running on phones or Raspberry PI boards, the cost benefit for the educational value of connecting to Winlink becomes manageable. The possibility of using a RP board and Lora board would allow someone to connect via a ham operated EHN End Node for well under $100.
A future Radio Operator could operate a gateway through HF into Winlink and then offer multiple local clients access through a local cluster on the EHN.
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