The Wonderful WiFi232: BBSing Has (Literally) Never Been Easier

Over the past year or so, I’ve been loading up SyncTerm and logging in to various telnet-accessible BBSs here and there — nothing too consistent. But, thanks to a piece of kit released by Paul Rickards, over the past month I have become fully immersed in the telnet BBS scene. Paul’s WiFi232 Internet Modem is an inexpensive device that lets you BBS the way it was meant to be done, on hardware from the golden age of the Bulletin Board System.

In a nutshell, it works like this: The WiFi232, as far as your vintage computer is concerned, is a Hayes telephone modem. It accepts standard AT commands as well as AT commands that go rather beyond the standard Hayes commandset. The purpose of the device is to act as a bridge between your serial port and your local WiFi router. It has a 25-pin RS-232 data interface and a Mini-USB connector for power — it should work with any computer sporting a standard serial port.

The WiFi232 is configured by connecting to the device’s built-in web server and loading the configuration page or by issuing extended AT configuration commands. For example,

AT$SSID=MyWifiHotspotName

points the device to your WiFi hotspot. Once things are configured (it supports 300 to 115,200 baud), just load up your favorite terminal program, type:

ATDT bbs.myfavbbs.com

and the WiFi232 “dials” into that telnet BBS. Your vintage computer thinks its talking on the phone.

I had early access to the device (well, I have two) and have been enjoying them on my Apple //c at the office as well as my enhanced Apple IIe, Amiga 1000, and TI-99/4A (recently upgraded to 80-columns with an F18a FPGA video board (that’s a blog post for later)) at the house. The WiFi232 is easy to move around, works exactly as advertised — it is an oldschool modem to my vintage systems — and gives me a compelling, new reason to spend time on a variety of machines in my collection.

I hope the demo video I put together gives a taste of what the WiFi232 enables, and I wholeheartedly recommend that any vintage computing fan grab one and get back online.

Here’s a list of telnet BBSs to get you started.

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30 Responses to The Wonderful WiFi232: BBSing Has (Literally) Never Been Easier

  1. Pingback: Byte Cellar shows retro machines accessing BBS’es via Internet with the new WiFi232 – Vintage is the New Old

  2. Jon Jackson says:

    What a cool retro project !!

  3. Digimer says:

    Is there a list to get an announcement when it is available again? It says it is sold out now.

  4. George says:

    That is a very clever idea, and one that would not have occurred to me. I like their decision to go with an extended AT command set.

  5. Pablo says:

    Oh my!
    I now HAVE to find a working AtariST or Commodore64 to make our old Haltsys! BBS back “online”.
    Congrats for a fine, clever and nostalgy-inducing project.
    Hand me a tissue, please.

  6. Andy says:

    Wow… This is the real hacking!

  7. Pingback: 1 – The Wonderful WiFi232: BBSing Has (Literally) Never Been Easier

  8. asd says:

    What is the maximum bandwidth? Is it limited to modem speed or Wifi?

    Do you know of any software you can run on another machine that would let you “dial” to it to access the internet?

    I’m also curious if there is sufficient software to allow you to transfer files between machines, (Amiga -> Modern OS) as an alternative to an ethernet adapter.

    • The maximum bandwidth is dictated by the RS-232 serial speed that you’ve set. Currently that’s between 300 and 115200 baud.

      To transfer files, you can use a terminal program on the Amiga (NComm, JRComm, etc) and something like SyncTERM on the modern OS computer. SyncTERM can dial an IP address. Once connected, use ZModem to transfer files to the Amiga (or vice versa).

  9. WSH says:

    Put the kit version of this together over the weekend. With the exception of the surface mount USB socket, which was a bit fiddly, the construction went ok, and it worked great. The user instructions were clear and I got “online” via my Macbook with a USB->serial adapter quickly. I have a number of retro machines where this will find a good home.

  10. Max says:

    Any chance you could post the source code?

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  14. Luis Miguel Silva says:

    Here’s two videos showing how it is possible to encapsulate full tcp/ip traffic over WiFI232 using ppp:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-Pql1hpmzE
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dUDpsMBa8jY

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  19. Argent says:

    Does it support SSH?

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  23. Peter says:

    But what if Your vintage computer… don’t have a serial. And no I don’t mean last year laptop with USB 3.0 on board. For example there is a Polish Elwro 800 Jr computer, which have printer port, local Junet network ports, and usual – joystick(similar to Atari or Kempston one), RGB, monitor(composite style signal).

    Operating system is CP/M and Spectrum compabitible.

    • Blake Patterson says:

      I am sure someone could wire something together using the printer or Junet ports to get it working using custom software with the WiFi232. It would be a non-simple project, but an interesting challenge.

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