Winlink 2000: An NTS Gray Area?

Recently, I’ve been having mixed thoughts about NTS stations passing traffic via the Winlink 2000 (WL2K) radio email system.
WL2K is a nifty system that allows people to get Internet email via a radio connection. It’s especially useful to operators at sea. They or anyone else can send and receive email with a computer, a sound card interface and a ham rig. As long as they can connect to any of many gateway stations worldwide, they can send email and retrieve email that’s waiting for them.
The system does not store email at the gateway station. It stores it via the Internet on multiple, identical, redundant Common Message Servers (CMS). In short, when a WL2K user connects via radio to a gateway station, that gateway station connects via the Internet to one of the CMS to exchange email.
So, what does this have to do with NTS? Well, some NTS officials have proposed a change to NTS Methods and Practice Guidelines that would officially incorporate WL2K into NTS. But that’s not what I’m writing about here.
What’s on my mind is what’s happening in the meantime. Some NTS operators are using WL2K radio email to complete traffic assignments they receive on phone (voice) nets. For example, it’s not unusual for a station on a region net to check in, list 10 messages for one of the sections and then tell the section representative that the traffic will move via radio email.
Is this a problem? I’m not really sure. Maybe not. But here’s the part I find interesting:
The history of NTS has been “radio all the way.” For example, if I check into a section net and pass a message for California to a region net representative, that station is expected to retransmit the message on the region net via radio to an area net representative. NTS would frown on him telephoning it to the area net representative or sending it to the area net rep. via Internet email. He’s supposed to move it on the air.
But if my region representative sends the message to the area net representative via WL2K, he is necessarily sending it over the Internet. This is true even if he uses his radio to connect to a WL2K gateway station. It’s true even if the area net rep. later connects via radio to the same WL2K gateway station to pick it up. The message will still have traveled via the Internet to and from a WL2K CMS.
Now, imagine this scenario: W9AAA tells N9BBB on the phone region net that he’s sending him traffic via radio email. W9AAA then connects via radio to WL2K gateway K9RMS and sends my California-bound message. When N9BBB tries to connect to K9RMS later, propagation has changed and K9RMS can’t hear him. So, he connects instead to WL2K gateway N6RMS and picks up the message. The message route would look like this:
W9AAA—(radio link)—K9RMS—(Internet link)—CMS—(Internet link)—N6RMS—(radio link)—N9BBB
From a practical viewpoint, I wonder if the above route is really all that different from K9RMS putting my message in a regular Internet email to N6RMS. Or for that matter, is it really different from K9RMS calling N6RMS on the telephone with my message?
And the area gets even grayer. Referring again to the example above, W9AAA doesn’t even have to use his radio to put the message on WL2K. The same software with which stations connect via radio to WL2K can also connect directly to a WL2K CMS via the Internet. So it’s possible for all those NTS stations using WL2K to move their phone net traffic to each other without radios! Of course, we assume they use their radios and not the available direct Internet links. But to a purist like me (I admit it!) the whole thing seems, well, gray.
Don’t read what I’m not writing! I’m mostly thinking out loud here and I do not condemn the use of WL2K. As I said at the beginning, it’s a nifty system and using WL2K radio links to get Internet email the “last mile” into and out of a disaster area is an especially excellent idea.
I just wonder sometimes whether using it routinely in connection with our phone nets is in keeping with the spirit of NTS. I don’t know. I just wonder. What do you think? Click the “comments” link below and add your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Winlink 2000: An NTS Gray Area?”

  1. Bud: It’s still clear to me that WL2K radio email is not a “radio-all-the-way” system. It’s a marriage of Internet and amateur radio technology. But whether “radio-all-the-way” is essential is a matter of opinion. One practice with which I do not agree, however, is a voice or CW net counting as net traffic messages that get passed via radio email.

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