Amateur radio has increasingly incorporated computers in aid of effective communications. Many varieties of digital transmissions are available including Winlink, Packet Radio, and modes such as PSK-31, RTTY, MFSK16, CW (Morse Code) and many more. Some advantages of digital modes include very narrow bandwidth, long distance transmission with little power, and error correction capabilities for accurate messaging. This can be extremely important in the exchange of emergency information such as the need for medical supplies or other resources.
Below you will find information on a few forms of digital modes. There are too many to include here, but this should get you started!
WINLINK: Winlink is a network of amateur radio and authorized government stations that provide worldwide radio email. It's capable of operating completely without the internet, automatically, using smart-network radio relays. It supports email with attachments, position reporting, weather and information bulletins, and is well-known for its role in interoperable emergency and disaster relief communications.
In order to utilize Winlink you'll need a computer, Winlink software, a TNC (Terminal Node Controller), a ham radio and the appropriate cables to connect your radio to the TNC and computer. More information at Winlink.org.
PACKET RADIO: Packet Radio transmits error-free bite size packets of data on VHF/UHF frequencies. Built on the AX.25 protocol, the packets are sent to full service Bulletin Board Services (BBS) or Packet stations operating as Nodes or Digipeaters. Nodes work together to form a Node Network so your message can be passed from node to node and eventually reach it's recipient.
The equipment needed for Packet Radio is similar to what you'll need for Winlink; a computer, a TNC, a ham radio, and the appropriate cables to connect everything.
FLDIGI: fldigi is computer software that runs on most operating systems and offers a host of digital modes. In fldigi software you'll find popular modes such as PSK-31, MFSK-16, RTTY, and CW. In this software, type a message and when you transmit, your message is translated into the selected digital mode. Incoming messages are decoded and displayed as text. You can create and store macros of often used information such as your call sign, name and location.
In order to use fldigi you will need a computer, fldigi software, a ham radio, and a sound card to connect your radio audio and controls to your computer. More information can be found at SourceForge and other websites.
WSJT-X: This software includes modes such as FST4, FST4W, FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, Q65, MSK144, and WSPR. These modes were designed for making reliable, confirmed QSOs (radio contacts) under extreme weak-signal conditions. The message content is pre-defined and very simple; your call sign, your location, your signal strength, and the corresponding info and confirmation from your contact. This can be fun and challenging to see how far away your signal can be heard. It's also become a popular form of contesting (making as many contacts as you can in a set period of time). Operators from around the world participate in these modes whether contesting or not.
The equipment needed for these modes is the same as for fldigi; a computer, WSJT-X software, a ham radio, and a sound card to connect your radio audio and controls to your computer. More information can be found at Princeton.edu
W6VG station running WSJT-X and N3FJP logging software