Wednesday, March 9, 2022


 I've experimented with digimode chat software in the past. Remember the V4Chat, FSQ experiments, FT8Call that became JS8 and a few others. Actually first chat software I experimented with was PSK31, I already used that in 1998. And before that we had packetradio which was widely used on CB here, I remember we had some chat software for that as well. Some other modes feature a simple chat as well, I experimented with Olivia and other modes. The fun is that every chat software has some advantages and disadvantages. The ultimate chat program should have more advantages as disadadvantages of course. 


Recently 4Z1AC Irad started to program VarAC, chatsoftware that uses the VARA mode software for transceiving signals. VARA is well known for use with e-mail over radio using Winlink. I wrote about this before last year.

I can write about all features VarAC has on board, but you can read it all on the very nice VarAC website:

Installing VarAC

Installing VarAC is simple. Get it to work together with OmniRig to control CAT/PTT is more complicated. But I managed it well since much of the setup is the same as with previous experiments. Personally I use VSPE to split the USB port to be able to use it for CAT and PTT. You can find some tips about that in this post. I also suggest you read one of the manuals or at least the quick start which you get with your download link.

Problems and help from other users

At first I thought I had a problem with incoming connections, it worked out that a neighbour station was trying to connect me while he had configuration problems. I discovered that after I called for help on the VarAC facebook page. I met some very friendly users including Irad 4Z1AC himself that helped me. As a matter of fact my second QSO was with 4Z1AC, and a day later we chatted again as you can see above. 


I have to say this software is really fun to use, much easier to use compared to JS8. The graphical interface is very clear. Another huge advantage is that there is no timeslot like JS8 (and FT8, FT4 etc.). You don't need the internet or a GPS receiver to keep your computer on exact time. I would rather choose it for mobile/field communications in time of emergency. The internet is vulnerable and GPS is probabely switched off in case of a global "disturbance". But well, although you could use this software seriously in case of emergency it is actually made to have fun. The biggest fun is that Irad is doing constant updates to improve the software and implement new ideas. Ideas you can propose yourself by the way. So far Irad is also a very active user himself as I experienced, I guess he is on 24/7 on 20m. You can always leave him a message. 

In the past chat software like this was not really for the logfilling FT8 community. Well, Irad solved that. VarAC logs automatically. Even when you just send a PING for you report. So, DXing, logfilling and chatting is all in the same package. Now we only need a lot of stations using it. So far, I already saw some stations that experimented with FSQ and JS8 before. I even had a short chat with fellow blogger OH8STN Julian from Finland who also participated in previous experiments. I've had fun with this software package so far and will be experimenting with it when I have some time. I'm curious what new features will be build in in the future and hope to see some more and new users. 


A disadvantage I see so far is the bandwidth of the signal which is 500Hz (or even 2300Hz). It is quite wide compared to FT8/JS8 and other "modern" digimodes. Luckely Irad has made a QSY option including a notify into the software, something that only works when you have CAT control. At least this will prevent collisons in case there are more stations trying to call. I know it is complicated but having CAT/PTT control from within the same package instead of  relying on omnirig would be a lot easier for many people.  What I read on the site is that in the next update the split function I do with VSPE will be build into the software, it is a good step forward.

My personal ideas for the future

What I would like to see in the future is something like a postbox, messages (mail) you can store for certain stations which they can read as soon as your are on air. JS8 has something like that. JS8 also has a relaying feature, I found the use of it a bit complicated. Since VarAC uses a real connected status I think it would be better to use certain stations as a kind of node like the node stations in packetradio. I remember we could kind of DX connecting from node to node and get further away as the normal reach. In the nineties of last century I was quite active on CB packetradio and I had a unmanned TheNet node at my parents house as well. In some circumstances I was able to hop nodes till about 4 or 5 nodes sometimes reaching more as hundred kilometers away instead of the normal 10-20km. I might try to think it over and ask Irad to try implementing it in the future.


Unknown said...

I wonder if you could send the Winlink message templates with this mode. I would think the ability to basically 'broadcast' a request to all deployed stations would be a nice feature. In other words, combining VarAC with Winlink features.

73, Steve Panattoni N6RSH

Bert, PA1B said...

Hallo Bas, ik heb wel eens gechat. In 2001 en 2002 heb ik wel PSK31 gebruikt, maar mijn tiksnelheid laat veel te wensen over. hi. Goede grafisch interface en makkelijk te gebruiken en goede ondersteuning, lijkt me heel aantrekkelijk. Succes, 73, Bert

Paul Stam PAØK said...

Hallo Bas, ja PSK31 was ook mijn eerste digitale mode. Was toen al een openbaring dat je aardig kon werken met deze mode. Ik heb best veel didgitale modes gehad, maar die chat modes heb ik niet zoveel mee. Gaat me ook te snel dat typen net wat Bert zegt. FT8 vind ik prima, maar ze moeten niet weer een nieuwe mode ontwikkelen want zo blijf je aan de gang, maar ik snap wel dat je van experimenteren houdt, en daar is ook de hobby vor bedoeld. 73 Paul

PE4BAS, Bas said...

That would be something to consider. I think Irad is willing to program features in his software. But of course you need to provide him with detailed requests. 73, Bas

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hallo Bert, ja een beetje snel tikken is wel een ding. Maar het hoeft niet zo snel als met PSK31, dat kon ik ook niet bijhouden. Deze digimode lijkt meer op packetradio vind ik. Het verstuurd telkens een pakketje met gegevens. Ook gegevens m.b.t. contact houden, gegevens als een ander aan het tikken is, signaalsterkte en informatie. Dit doet het ook als je even niet tikt. Best leuk. Het gevaar is echter dat het uiteindelijk weer een "zombie" digimode wordt. Daar bedoelen ze mee dat er een hoop stations standby zijn maar niemand echt contact maakt met een ander. Dat zag en zie je op dit moment vooral bij JS8. 73, Bas

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Hallo Paul, PSK31 was leuk en voor velen de eerste opstap in digimode. FT8 is ook leuk maar wat onpersoonlijk. Vind JS8call al een stap in de goede richting maar een beetje ingewikkeld. De interface van VarAC is wat mooier en het programma is nu nog redelijk eenvoudig. Onze hobby is ook onder andere bedoeld voor dit soort experimenten. Ik ga niet zeggen dat ik dit over een jaar nog gebruik. Maar als het interessant blijft dan ga je er automatisch mee proberen of het leuk is. Vindt het ook mooi dat je zelf ideeën kan aandragen voor nieuwe moglijkheden binnen deze software. 73, Bas

MadDogMcQ said...

It’s a coincidence that you post this Bas, because a friend at our Radio Club was telling me about it on Thursday and he scribbled down some details for me to download. I haven’t done so yet, but now that you have confirmed its worth, I’ll give it a go when I get time.

As for a ‘postbox’, I think that sounds too much like email for me.

Hope you’re keep well.

Kind regards,

Tom, M7MCQ

PE4BAS, Bas said...

Had some very nice chats on VarAC today Tom. I really like it. Yes, the postbox is like e-mail but can be very handy. I agree it is something that's not really needed since you can always view your "chat history". Another thing is the CAT control. I know Irad is busy with it and already is testing a full CAT controled varAC version. 73, Bas