Getting started with Winlink

Preface

This is the updated version of my article series, started in early 2018. Winlink evolved further and meanwhile there are newer software modems for faster and more effective transmission available. This article should take these circumstances into account.

Prerequisites

PC running Windows (7 & up), Soundcard-Interface with CAT control or TRX with build-in soundcard (via USB cable, such as TS-590S, IC-7300 e.g.) and a working internet connection. CAT control is not mandatory, but without you have to adjust the Gateway´s frequency manually – it´s not much fun. Your transceiver should be switched on and the antenna tuned 😉

Download a current copy of Winlink Express from the Winlink server. Look for a file similar “Winlink_Express_install_1_5_xx-x.zip”. 

Install

Unzip and install to the recommended folder. 

Start

Start Winlink Express and fill in the required information into the fields of the properties page. You have to enter

  • your Callsign,
  • your Grid Square and
  • Password recovery email-address (highly recommended!)

Leave the “My Password” field unfilled. Contact Information may be filled (optional). Click Update.

Register with Winlink and retrieve a password

Now you´re ready to register with the Winlink system. In this process, you will get an email-address formed YOURCALL@winlink.org and a password, which is necessary for secure login to the system.

First, you will have to compose an initial email: Click on Message, New Message…
A message box appears. Send a mail to yourself and click on Post to Outbox.

On the Winlink Express main screen, now choose Telnet Winlink from the dropdown menu and click on Open Session: on the left of the field. A new window Telnet Winlink Session opens – click Start and wait for a second or ten. The process is successful, when you see *** Disconnected at xxxx in the message window. Then connect again (click Start). With this second connect, you will receive a system message containing your password. Close the Telnet session window and check, whether the My Password field is already filled automatically (it should). If not, copy the password out of the receive message and fill it in manually.

When you digged through these steps, you have your Winlink account setup done right now and you may receive eMails using CALL@winlink.org. As there are several ways to send and receive eMails, you should know about some more basics. Anyhow, your first connect to a HF gateway is not far away.

Telnet, Pactor, ARDOP & Co.

When you use a regular eMail Program such as Outlook or Thunderbird, eMails are instantly sent and received these days. Winlink works different at this point, as it was designed to use multiple ways to reach the goal of having messages transferred.

When internet access is given, you may use the option Telnet Winlink from the main window´s dropdown (next to Logs):

In case of emergency, this for sure is not the favourite option (besides it´s of no fun in normal times).

Even there are options like Pactor Winlink, Packet Winlink, Robust Packet Winlink and Iridium GO Winlink – they are used only in (very) special cases with external hardware. On HF you will mostly use ARDOP Winlink or VARA Winlink. ARDOP & VARA are Software-TNC´s, designed especially for use with soundcard radio interfaces.

Although the use of VARA is my favorite, ARDOP modem is main subject matter in the following explanation.

Settings: Soundcard

Every transfer method (Winmor, ARDOP, VARA etc.) has its own settings which have to be configured in the corresponding Session window. I assume that you have your radio switched on and your interface is connected.

In the main window choose Ardop Winlink and click Open Session – the ARDOP Session Window and the ARDOP_Win Virtual TNC appears. In the Session Window click Settings -> Ardop TNC Setup:

You have to choose capture and playback device of your corresponding soundcard device. It may help to rename the device to a meaningful term in the Windows soundmixer settings. Note, that you may return to this point later for adjusting the Drive Level (the output sent to the TRX).

Click Update. The Winlink Session Window will restart.

CAT control?

When your Interface has a COM port for CAT control, you will use this option to make your life easier. But please note, that this will also be the most difficult part of your setup because of a wide variety of TRX models and its quirks, as well as the interface type itself. You should know about the specs and capability of your particular interface. All these topics are adressed within the Winlink Express Help (Setup -> Radio Control).

Click Settings, Radio Setup and choose your radio model. In my case, an IC-706 MKIIG is used with an interface, that has an own COM port for radio control and the PTT is switched by the RTS pin. This should look as follows:

Make your settings as it should correspond to your hardware and click UpdateThe session window will restart again.

Connect to first HF Gateway

Now you are almost ready! In order to receive something on the HF path, you should send yourself a small text eMail (remember: CALL@winlink.org is your new address) at first. Please note, that having //WL2K in the subject line is necessary to bypass the Winlink spamfilter/whitelist – otherwise the message will be rejected.

Open an Ardop session and click on Channel Selection. A new window opens and shows a list of RMS Gateways. Click on Update Table Via Internet and wait until the update is finished (be patient – this will take a minute or two). You will see a list of suitable gateways, based on the grid locator you entered before and sorted in descending estimated quality order.

Double click on a gateway call of your choice:

The Channel Selector window closes, now the call and frequency is preset within the Session window. Check, whether the frequency is clear and click on Start. Your TRX should begin connecting the selected gateway.

When you do not use CAT control, you will have to set the TRX´ frequency by hand. Please note, that the frequencies shown in the Channel Selector are center frequencies. In this particular case, you have to subtract 1.5 kHz and set your TRX to 7050,00 kHz:

That´s it. Easy, eh? 😉

Please see my additional notes about Winlink in my digest. And also don´t miss my thoughts in the following postscript.

Epilogue

The article discusses possibilities that do not correspond to my recommendation.

First, the installation is possible from Windows 7 on, but for security reasons I strongly recommend to use a current Windows 10 version. The extended support of Windows 7 expired on 01/14/2020, so there will no more security updates. Windows 10 is released twice a year, which is then provided with updates for 18 months at a time. The timing for the installation of updates can be controlled better than in old versions.
The free update of Windows 7/8/8.1 is still possible as of 02/2020 (see this ZDnet article here: https://www.zdnet.com/article/heres-how-you-can-still-get-a-free-windows-10-upgrade/).
And please prepare before upgrading: no backup, no mercy!

Second: Use VARA preferably and consider to buy a license. Though $69 may sound like a lot, but it’s a cinch compared to the cost of a Pactor modem. Technically, VARA is the only mode that can compete with Pactor in terms of speed and robustness even under worse condx (up to -18dB).

P.P.S.: VARA

As described before, VARA is a newer soundcard-based modem with excellent characteristics. As it is not a product of the Winlink team, it is not part of the Winlink Express installer and has to be downloaded and installed seperately.

First, download “VARA HF” from here: https://rosmodem.wordpress.com/2011/01/10/ros-2/

Second, unzip the package and install it with Administrator Rights (right click on the file, …). When asked, install it to C:VARA as recommended.

Third: Open a Vara HF Winlink window and click on Settings, Vara TNC Setup. Make sure, that the modem path corresponds to where you have it installed recently:

Fourth: Head over to the VARA Modem window and click Settings, Soundcard… Make sure, that you have the appropriate sounddevice selected:

Now, use the Tune-Button to set the correct output level. ALC reading should be as close to zero as possible!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.