Here’s a quick, 5-minute demonstration of how packet radio can turn your handheld radio into a computer-to-computer communications system. This demo shows how one ham can leave a message for another ham using a packet bulletin board system (BBS), in this case KB0YNA’s node that sits atop Waterdog Peak, not far from here. Note that any ham radio operator, including Technician Class, can do this.
Packet radio requires the use of a terminal node controller (TNC). The least expensive of these is about $200 new, though I picked up an older, working TNC (well, it worked with a little tender loving care) for $2 at a recent swap meet. The part “older” is quite literal – it’s way behind where the current ones are in terms of capability. Note that it’s possible to pay lots more for TNCs. You can get by with the least expensive one. The additional capabilities are for HF radios (General Class and above), but most of the popular digital modes on HF can be used with just a computer sound card.
So that brings up the question: is it possible to do packet with a computer sound card? After all, it’s just tones on a radio. The answer is supposedly yes, using AWGPE’s software. Frankly I can’t make heads or tails of the software (and I’ve tried), nor do I know of anyone who has. If you have, please let me know how you did it! In the meantime, we’re stuck with hardware TNCs.