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PACTOR is a radio modulation mode used by amateur radio operators, marine radio stations, military or government users such as the Department of Homeland Security, and radio stations in isolated areas to send and receive digital information via radio.
PACTOR is an evolution of both AMTOR and packet radio; its name is a portmanteau of these two technologies' names. PACTOR uses a combination of simple FSK modulation, and the ARQ protocol for robust error detection and data throughput. Generational improvements to PACTOR include PACTOR II, PACTOR III, and PACTOR IV which are capable of higher speed transmission. PACTOR is most commonly used on frequencies between 1 MHz and 30 MHz.
PACTOR was developed in order to improve the reception of digital data when the received signal was weak or noisy. It combines the bandwidth efficiency of packet radio with the error-correction (CRC) and automatic repeat request (ARQ) of AMTOR. Amateur radio operators were instrumental in developing and implementing these digital modes.
PACTOR radio equipment consists of an HF transceiver, a computer and a terminal node controller. Software running on the computer drives the terminal node controller. The most commonly used amateur program for this purpose is Airmail.
PACTOR is used by Amateur Bulletin board system operators to exchange public messages, and open conversations across the world. It is also used by the NTSD (digital) portion of the ARRL's National Traffic System (NTS) to pass digital ARRL Radiograms. Newer PACTOR modes are used to transfer large binary data files and Internet e-mail, particularly via the Winlink global e-mail system.
To reduce the amount of data sent, on-line data compression is utilized, along with memory ARQ error correction. By combining these open technologies, PACTOR achieves a power efficiency much greater than that of older protocols such as packet, AMTOR, or RTTY. PACTOR has a very narrow waveform and occupies the same band space as analog 300 baud packet.