The Winlink 2000 Network

Winlink 2000 is a worldwide radio messaging system that takes advantage of the Internet where possible. It does this in order to allow the end-user more radio spectrum on the crowded spectrum. Winlink 2000 has an interesting history that may be worth reviewing.  Currently, there are approximately 9,300 radio users on all the classes of users and approximately 98,000 Internet recipients. Monthly traffic averages over 150,000 messages or 280,000 minutes. Each message has an average duration of approximately 3.4 minutes and each message averages approximately 3,200 bytes. The Pactor 1, 2 and 3 protocols are used on HF, and AX.25 Packet, D-Star and 802.11 are used on VHF/UHF. Growth of the system is dependent on the various classes of users, including normal Amateur use, emergency communications organizations such as the ARRL ARES® and RACES, the UK Cadet forces, Army MARS and others. Most recently, there has been an increasing interest in emergency communications, and the Winlink 2000 development team has responded by adding features and functions that make the system more reliable, flexible and redundant. The role of Winlink 2000 in emergency communications is to supplement existing methodologies to add another tool in the toolkit of the various volunteer services deploying such emergency communications in their communities of interests.

Winlink 2000 has been assisting the maritime community, NOAA, the United Nations,  the US. Coast

Guard and other agencies for over 6 years now. Only recently has it been brought to the attention of the greater emergency communications community due to  recent domestic disasters.

Over the last several years, the system is used almost daily by the maritime community for locating lost vessels. The US Coast Guard requests the location and condition of vessels from the 7,500 plus maritime Winlink users on an on-going basis. In addition, during the Asian Tsunami, Winlink 2000 maritime users played an important role in early communications. This was also true of the Chilean/Peruvian storms, the failure of INTELSAT 804, which left hundreds of Islands without reliable communications, and many other hurricane related episodes in the Caribbean and Atlantic Sea. Such acts went unnoticed until the domestic weather disasters brought Winlink 2000 to the attention of many, including a positive mention in post-Katrina reports from the US House of Representatives and the White House.

Several years ago, the Department of Homeland Security suggested to the ARRL president that the Amateur community should design and maintain a national digital network for emergency communications purposes.  Winlink 2000 was their network of choice. Today, the ARRL Amateur Radio Emergency Service® (ARES) and Radio amateur civil emergency service (RACES) has been busy deploying Winlink 2000 county by county across the country . In addition other non-Amateur volunteer services such as the Army Military Affiliate Radio System and the UK Cadet Forces, the Salvation Army, the GA Baptist Relief organization, and many other such agencies  have utilized Winlink 2000 for their radio e-mail, both in emergencies and when no other communications outlets have been available .  These most recent activities resulted from the use of Winlink 2000 during the most recent domestic hurricane disasters.

The Winlink 2000 system is a "star" based network containing 4 mirror image, redundant COMMON MESSAGE SERVERS (CMS), one in San Diego, one in Detroit, one in Washington, and one in Perth, Australia. These insure that the system will remain in operation should any chunk of the Internet become inoperative. Each Radio Message Server node (RMS) is tied together as would be the ends of a spoke on a wheel with the hubbing being done by the Common Message Servers. Traffic goes in and out between the CMS and the Internet email recipient, and between the end users and the Radio Message Server gateways. Multiple Radio-to-Radio addresses may be mixed with radio-to-internet e-mail addresses, allowing complete flexibility.

Because Winlink 2000 uses de facto e-mail (IETF RFC 2821) as its format, it provides direct Radio users and Internet third-party users seamless, transparent email with attachments of reasonable size without any additional stress or learning curve. This allows any mobile or portable operation to interface into the Internet e-mail system from virtually anywhere in the World over the various separate classes of users such as Army MARS or the Amateur service. Each class of service is totally separated from the next so that boundaries and purposes are not mixed. Army MARS only sees Army MARS station and users, while the Amateur stations only sees Amateur users.

Because each Radio Message Server gateway is a mirror image of the next, it does not matter which station is used. They all look the same. Each can provide over 700 text-based or graphic Weather products, and each can relay the user's position to a WEB based view of reporting users. This keeps family, friends or, in a disaster, tactical positions in view. The views can zoom to the street level via a standard street map, a satellite view or a mixture of both.

The Army and Air Force Military Affiliate Radio System (MARS)  now has widely spread, redundant, mirror image, Radio message Servers called "PMBOs" covering the US, Europe and the Middle East. More are in the works, and the joint  MARS Winlink 2000 network will be postured for any domestic disaster with point-to-multipoint digital communications over Radio for the next domestic hurricane season. An expanded Global network is planned. Because of the Army and Air Force MARS infrastructure, and due to the procedural training it demands of its volunteer members, Winlink 2000 fits in perfectly. When or if it is necessary to deploy this radio messaging system for any disaster event, its proven effectiveness from past disasters coupled with  MARS proven procedures, should bring effective communications to those in need.

For emergency services, like any other communications system, the effectiveness of Winlink 2000 is only as good as those who have planned for its use. One of the most valuable lessons learned from the Katrina disaster, has been the ability of those deploying the system for their own communities to build continual relationships with the agencies they wish to serve. After all, it is their "customers" who Winlink 2000 serves, and those volunteers using this digital radio messaging system must bring its capabilities to those who need them before the system can be effective.


Radio Message Server (or PMBO) AAB1NH is located in Southern New Hampshire, and serves users throughout New England and around the U.S. It offers Pactor 1, 2, and 3 on dedicated HF radio frequencies assign to MARS use by the Dept of the Army.  The radio is a Yaesu FT847 modified for MARS use.  The antenna is a Barker & Williamson BW90L all band folded dipole.  The station is powered by a deep-cycle battery  and an AC power supply.  This is backed up by a 5KW generator.

The PMBO also offers TelPac service on designated MARS VHF frequencies, as well as Telnet access.

The PMBO has been in continuous service since August, 2006.