EchoLink software allows licensed Amateur Radio stations to communicate with one another over the Internet, using streaming-audio technology. The program allows worldwide connections to be made between stations, or from computer to station, greatly enhancing Amateur Radio’s communications capabilities. There are more than 200,000 validated users worldwide — in 162 of the world’s 193 nations — with about 5,000 online at any given time.
D-STAR* (Digital Smart Technology for Amateur Radio) is an exciting new form of Amateur Radio that compliments other parts of the hobby including VHF, HF operation, Contesting and Satellite communications etc. Utilising digital communication and the Internet, D-STAR allows you to communicate worldwide with other operators who are connected to D-STAR* repeaters.
QsoNet uses the internet to receive audio signals from a ham radio transmitting station, then instantly reflects the audio back to all stations listening on that frequency. There is no RF. Everything is done over the internet. The result is a simulated ionosphere for worldwide amateur radio communication. Stations can use voice, CW (Morse code), PSK and FSK modulation.
That’s the official descriptions out of the way but what actually are they and where do I think they fit into amateur radio.
I’ll take them in order.
EchoLink connects stations throughout the world together via the internet and links to either simplex channels or a piece of software running on your computer. You access the EchoLink network either directly from your PC or via your radio. To access from a computer you have to register and validate your callsign because the EchoLink requires that only properly licensed radio amateurs have access to the system.
EchoLink does involve radio but it’s not an essential part of the system. You can fire up a piece of software on your PC and through that you connect to the EchoLink network and can communicate with anyone on that network. There are generally around 5,000 people/nodes connected to the network at any one time, I just connected myself and I can see 4,957 stations online. When you get into a conversation, the other station could be using software on their computer or be connected via a radio link.
I’m not a fan of EchoLink. Although there is a radio element to it, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in talking into my computer and wondering whether the person I’m talking to is on a radio link at the far end or just connected to the internet. We have a local EchoLink node located not too far from me and when I’ve listened to it, it bores me senseless! I don’t want to be listening to a 2m FM channel and hear two blokes who are thousands of miles away chatting to each other about what they’ve been doing in the garden that afternoon. Global communication is fine but this is meaningless.
D-Star is a digital format which links amateur radio repeaters together via the internet. Using your D-Star equipped wireless you access the repeater and your audio will be forwarded to any repeaters which yours is linked to. Anyone tuning across the output of a D-Star repeater who doesn’t have a D-Star radio won’t be able to hear you, it’s a closed system.
I like the concept of D-Star. You have to use a radio to access it so it’s not just an Internet linked system and I like the idea of linking local repeaters together to form a larger network of consecutive repeaters. My main concern with D-Star is that it’s manufacturer dependant which means that it’s only currently available on Icom radios. I have nothing against Icom whatsoever, they make great equipment but I think it’s a real shame that if you want to use D-Star, you’re forced to buy an Icom wireless.
My point about local linking needs some explanation. I see little point in linking a repeater in [say] Clacton-on-Sea with a repeater in [picks random USA city out of the air] Seattle. I doubt the people in Seattle would want to listen to me talking to my son on the way home from work and conversely I’m not really interested in hearing their stories of clearing snow from their driveways in the winter. What I do think would work well would be to link together repeaters in adjoining areas, so again using the local area as an example, linking repeaters in Ipswich, Clacton-on-Sea, Colchester and Chelmsford together would give a single point of contact for a large area.
This one has a lot of potential. At the moment it’s a Voice over IP network with a pretty front end that looks like a radio and that’s where the similarity with real radio ends. You have to provide proof that you’ve got a licence to access the system which is great. The CQ100 ‘transceiver’ has bands and modes and it’s possible to switch from SSB to CW and use both voice and Morse. My big bugbear with this is that although it looks like a radio, it really is simply a VoIP system, just like Skype. The only advantage over Skype is that it has a built in address book of other radio amateurs.
QSONet describes itself as ‘Virtual Ionosphere’ but that virtual ionosphere is one where every signal bounces perfectly from station to station. If it were to actually simulate propagation then it would be vastly better than it is, it could actually be used as a proper training aid and to gain experience. If the system could somehow look at what the bands are doing in real life then QSB, interference and changing conditions could be built into it so for example, 20m would be open during the day with the path from the UK to North America appearing late afternoon and then 40m, 80m and 160m coming alive at night. It wouldn’t even need to mirror the current real world conditions, just as long as there was some sort of change on the different ‘bands’ it supports. The problem with QSONet is that all ‘signals’ are strong. Actually, that’s not my main problem with QSONet, my main issue is that it costs. You have to pay $32/year for what is effectively a front end to a VoIP system with a pre-supplied address book.
That’s my take on these three systems. For me, only one of them is currently of any slight interest and that’s D-Star but because there are no D-Star repeaters within range of me, it’s a mode I won’t be able to experience. I say ‘slight’ interest but what I actually mean is that it’s the least unappealing of all three! I’m not planning on using any of them.
I don’t consider EchoLink or QSONet to be ‘real’ radio at all. What do you think?