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Setting Up APRS Station Using AGWPE
 

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Setting Up APRS Station Using AGWPE

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Since its inception by Bob Bruninga in the late 1980s, APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) has become more and more popular among amateur radio enthusiasts, especially those who has interest on digital communication through radio waves. With APRS, all real time tactical digital information, including messages, geographic coordinates, transmitter parameters, alerts and beacons, and so on, can be shared on a local area for various purposes. With the advent of Internet, APRS network information all over the world can be gated into the Internet, ingested through APRS Internet System (APRS-IS), and distributed globally for anyone to use.

If you're about to jump into the world of APRS, here's a short basic article on what's required to set up an APRS station using your VHF transceiver and computer.


Components of an APRS station.

Setting up an APRS station with a simple VHF radio transceiver and a PC is very simple. All you need is a VHF radio with its antenna, and a PC. The following illustration describes APRS operation using AGW software suite which was developed by George Rossopoulos, SV2AGW, from Greece. You will need some software which can be downloaded freely from George's site: AGWPE, AGWTracker, and AGWUIDigi.

PC Based APRS Station

1. Omnidirectional VHF Antenna. In urban setting, an omni works better, but if you'd like to reach a far away digipeater, then a directional antenna may serve better.

2. VHF Transceiver. Any VHF radio with proper audio and serial connector to a PC shall work.

3. Personal Computer with sound card. The audio input/output of the sound card connects to the VHF transceiver, as well as the serial port. The serial port signals the PTT mechanism on the radio.

4. AGW Packet Engine. This engine decodes AFSK signal coming from the sound card, and encodes APRS messages back into AFSK signal to be fed into the sound card.

5. AGW Tracker. A good APRS monitoring software. Requires AGW Packet Engine to be up and running. AGW Tracker can also serve as a beaconing software, in which it can broadcast APRS messages on a specified intervals.

6. AGW UI Digi. A very simple APRS digipeater software. Requires AGW Packet Engine to be up and running. This software will digipeats certain APRS packets which meets the criteria for digipeating.


Setting it up:

1. Find connector cable between your radio and the serial port of your computer. You can take the easy way by purchasing data mode interface cables from one of various vendors, or if you are brave enough, construct the interface cable yourself - in most cases, you can find the wiring diagram of your PTT plug in the manual. Typically it will connect the audio plugs between your radio and your computer's sound card, and connects your computer's serial port or USB port to key your PTT. In case you are using an interface cable which uses USB instead of the plain old serial port, you might need to install special hardware driver for it. Tune your radio to 144.390 MHz or 144.800 MHz, or others, depending  your country, and listen to the bursts of data packets. That's the AFSK modulation of APRS data packets.

2. Download George Rossopoulos's AGWPE, AGWTracker, and AGWUIDigi, and install them in your computer. These three packages are provided as free software, however if eventually you think you enjoy APRS very much, consider purchasing the Pro version of it, to support George's development efforts.

3. Connect your radio and your computer using the interface cable of your choice, and set up AGWPE to match your soundcard and data port setting. When done, run AGWTracker, you should see some packets decoded on your screen soon. Now, you can see that your soundcard and AGWPE has successfully worked together to decode those audible but unintelligible data bursts you heard earlier, into a readable textual messages. Before transmitting any messages through APRS, please set up the path Stephen, WA8LMF, has a very good guidance on setting up the APRS path here. Now you can send try to send a message to your APRS net, or to your APRS buddy. You can also try to set a message to beacon on a specified period.

4. Access APRS internet service, such as findu.com or aprs.fi, register there, and find your station name and status displayed as a layer on top of an online map! Congratulations, now you're on APRS!

5. If you like to volunteer your station to serve as a digipeater, you can run AGWUIDigi to do the digipeating automatically for you. Keep the machine and your radio running all the time. It might be helpful to set the TOT (transmission time out) on your transceiver to a minimum, for example 1 minute, to avoid constant transmission when the AGWPE software crashed or hung. Make sure you check with your local area to see if you are allowed to set up this new digipeater. Too many digipeaters in a small area tends to congest the APRS network.

I will update this article with more detailed contents soon.


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Last Updated on Tuesday, 04 May 2010 20:41
 

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