Packet for Non-Packeteers

A Userís Report on the BayPac BP-1 Packet Modem.

User Report: by Dee Interdonato NB2F ( Radio Fun - August 1995 )




As a rule, I was always a "real time" type of ham. I listened to many years of talks on packet and was present at many demonstrations. At Field Day, our club, the Bergen Amateur Radio Association in northern New Jersey, has had Packet setups and I have glanced at the CRT (or LCD with laptops) with those odd commands and other data on them. It always seemed so impersonal and out of touch. I could never understand the connection between amateur radio QSOs and packet. It didnít seem to fit in, as RTTY, CW, AM, FM and SSB are all "real- time" modes. Moreover, the excuse of being DOS illiterate didnít fit because I have been a computer user since the VIC-20 era. I have heard others getting nervous because the word "computer" was used in the same sentence as "ham radio". However, computers have given amateur radio another avenue for expansion. I have been using satellite tracking programs for many years along with WEFAX, RTTY, CW and so forth. My ham equipment and my computer certainly get used equally.

One of my co-workers became a ham recently and picked up a TNC and was telling me about "packet". I also have a few "B.A.R.A. buddies" that are into packet and have been caught on several simplex frequencies on FM asking each other, "Did you get that?". So with packet on my mind Ö off to Dayton. This year I was supposed to meet an Army buddy of mine at Dayton. At the last minute he had to cancel (always next year), but I went anyway with my wife Ginny N2EYN and two of my harmonics (15 and 16-year-old young ladies and non-hams), promising them a fun time driving to "Dayton". While strolling around those bargains (mostly alone as my YF was recuperating from a broken ankle), I came across a TNC that was "cheap" and was told it could do most anything a regular TNC could accomplish; at least it would get me on the air with packet. So after the required bartering, I parted with my money (under $50) and went home with the bargain (what else was there to do when itís raining?). The BayPac BP-1 unit, a packet TNC, was now owned by a non-packeteer.

Upon arriving home, I started to put together the "8088" I had promised myself I would use strictly for packet and leave my 386 for the "other stuff". After setting it up with an RS-232 port, I added the BayPac unit to the COM1 port following the instructions provided (three sheets) and proceeded to load the self-extracting software supplied with the unit. The software was "BayCom" and came complete with on-line help and files you can print out to have handy for reference on the programís use. Have plenty of paper; itís 60 pages! The instructions provided with the BayPac unit are easy to understand and they even give a number you can call (at certain times) to resolve any problems you might run into with the installation that were not software related.

I experienced a shock as I realized I didnít have an extra mike plug for my dual bander and paid $10 at a local electronics place for one to get me on the air. It might be a good idea to search at the local hamfests for a matching plug for your rig to keep on hand if you plan to get into packet. I connected the wire (telco type) to the supplied cable and hooked it to my dual bander. Both transmit audio and receive audio are needed at the mic plug; however, you could use an external receive audio output. My rig has an external speaker jack and I am using an audio pad to keep the volume down so I can concentrate on other things in the shack while packet is happening. Now, since I am not packet oriented, I had to reach for the repeater directory to find out what frequencies are being used for packet. I found a local DX BBS and dialed it up. I set the volume on the rig and up popped packet information on the screen. Then I had to check to make sure that I was modulating the rig correctly and set up the "neatly hidden" gain adjustment on the BayPac unit using my Icom R7000 to check the level (with a dummy load, of course).

Now once again, I had to read the instructions (the printed ones from the software) to gain enough information to enable me to log onto "something"! I proceeded to log onto - oops, pardon me - "connect" to the DX BBS, and then was informed I couldnít use all the functions until I was formally acknowledged by the operator of the BBS. However, my unit worked and I has connected. I was a "packeteer". I dressed my cables and made it a permanent installation.

Since then, I have found out what frequencies my friends hang out on and several other bulletin boards to survey. Leaving high-speed communications behind (example: human speech), browsing through a host of for -sale items and "wanted" inquiries has been fun. Getting bulletins from the league and other organizations is useful and AMSAT information abounds. The BBS on the frequency on which I am camped is very busy and just getting a directory can take several minutes. Even in the "Talk" mode one has to wait for those DX clusters to go by. Just be patient.

The BayPac unit is manufactured by Tigertronics, 400 Daily Lane, P.O. Box 5210, Grants Pass, OR 97527; and the software, BayCom, is produced by German amateurs DL8MBT and DG3RBU, both of whom can be reached through Johannes Kneip, Tassiloweg 3, D-8400, Regensburg, Germany. Version 1.4 comes with the package. The BayPac unit is the size of a Centronics gender changer and the software came on a 3.5" disk (720K). The size has nothing to do with its performance, however. It does just about everything more expensive units can do with the exception of a mailbox, since there is no memory. I can report that if you have an IBM compatible with an available comm port, you can easily get into packet communications with this package. Especially if you just want to try the mode, the price should not deter you from getting your feet wet. Remember, I was a skeptic, so you try it, too!