About the system

We'd like to show you a photo of GB7BBC here, but two computers, loads of little boxes with flashing lights and meters, and a tangle of wires could hardly by any stretch of the imagination be described as exciting. One day when I have a foul temper running, I'll bung a pic here for you.

There is a map of the Ariel Radio Group system, but on this page, we'll tell you a bit more about GB7BBC itself.

A potted history

Rumour has it that the first 24 hr packet operations started around July 1993 when a 386SX 40MHz machine was purchased, together with a 4 port Baycom USCC card to run a G8BPQ node. A WNOS TCP/IP BBS was added shortly afterwards to act as a focus of information about the Ariel Radio Group. The version of WNOS (4b0) was quite reliable for the time, and could last some 7-14 days before crashing spectacularly.

In early 1994, the BBS was changed to the JNOS genre which was becoming more and more popular within the UK. By now the WNOS was notorious for nibbling at the tail of its executable on the 40MB drive, and the arrival of JNOS version 1.10g heralded a system that could run for some 14-35 days. Radio ports were added on 144 and 439 MHz to complement those on 70 and 433MHz, the 439 being one of the few 9k6 links in the London area at the time. A change in the interpretation of licence conditions meant that "G8LWS" could no longer continue as a BBS, and GB7BBC was granted to the group in December 1994.

International links were quietly added in May 1995 after a year of preparation by some group members in Surrey, and friends elsewhere on the staff and overseas. A 286 machine was loaned by G8NFU for duty as the special router required as part of this experiment. When we say "quietly added", we mean just that, we told just one person outside of the cadre responsible, and sat back and watched the usage figures soar.

Come October 95, the JNOS was dealing with some 200 logins per day, and starting to feel the strain. JOTA weekend that month was a bad time to be the sysop. Usage hit 300 logins per day, the machine frequently crashed, and the aftershocks continued for weeks afterwards despite the fettling techniques we employed to keep JNOS happy. The search was on for a more reliable BBS system. In December, a new 486 80MHz box was purchased to run TNOS under the Linux operating system.

The change of software and operating system bore fruit. GB7BBC has been seen to survive at a peak login level of 490 per day, and with up to 21 users in the BBS at any one time. The TNOS does crash, but reliably bounces back, and the sysop team do not miss phoning up their colleagues, or having to make a special trip in to reset the computer.

An experimental system

GB7BBC has always been an experimental device. London is well cared for by its network of AX25 BBSs, and we have sought to complement and not duplicate existing services, except in a backup capacity. The major reasons for GB7BBC's existence are to:

In respect of the latter, members have built, and are still building hardware for experimental use at GB7BBC, and some developers of TCP/IP software for amateur radio have received feedback and additional material for inclusion in their NOS's.

UK BBS systems are tightly controlled, and there are some nasty restrictions which prevent the casual packet radio operator from operating a BBS without being granted a GB7 callsign. As a group activity, interested members have been able to support GB7BBC through the sysop team, and gain experience of operating a BBS where they might otherwise have not been able to do so. This aspect of amateur self-training was recently threatened by a change in the rules affecting UK BBSs due to take effect in April 1997. Thanks to the efforts of many radio amateurs who wrote to the authorities involved, the RSGB DCC, and the sympathetic ear of the Radiocommunications Agency, workplace GB7 facilities such as GB7BBC, GB7GBR and GB7DXM (a dx cluster) are to be permitted to continue operations subject to achieving strict criteria.

Whilst GB7BBC is a popular facility, it provides an immeasurable training ground for the sysop team and other group members interested in digital communications. Striking the right balance between providing a reliable service to those amateurs who make use of GB7BBC and the experimentation that goes on is an unenviable task, and we can only apologise for those (hopefully rare) moments when things don't seem to be going right.

Trivial Statistics

(Year 20 Jan 1996 - 20 Jan 1997)

Number of amateurs making use of GB7BBC: 3100
BBS logins: 90,000
Other TCP/IP server connects: 13,500
Messages sent: 2,800
Messages received: 6,700
Average logins per day: 247
Observed peak logins per day: 380

(Year 21 Jan 1997 - 21 Jan 1998)

Number of amateurs making use of GB7BBC: 4700
BBS logins: 100,700
Other TCP/IP server connects: 51,600
Messages sent: TBC
Messages received: TBC
Average logins per day: 308
Observed peak logins per day: 490

In addition, GB7BBC and its router "g8lws-b" currently handle some 100,000+ amateur IP frames every day, plus about 15,000 "netrom" packets on top.

Back to GB7BBC home page