Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Echolink Follies


One of the developments we're seeing in amateur radio over recent years is the proliferation of VOIP and digital voice technologies. Examples of this are things like D-Star, IRLP, and EchoLink. The latter is sometimes a contentious technology, in that some amateurs don't consider it "real" radio because the audio/control interface is PC-based. Once while on a visit to San Diego I was having a pleasant conversation with a local repeater operator which turned very sour at the mere mention of the word "EchoLink" as he went into a tirade about the evils of the system. Normally hams reserve this sort of loathing for CB radio and BPL companies, so I was a bit surprised.

Since then I've encountered a few more instances of "EchoLink Enmity". My personal opinion is that there's little difference between controlling a radio/repeater with EchoLink versus using Ham Radio Deluxe plus Skype to control a rig remotely. The question of whether EchoLink users are higher or lower on the amateur food-chain is best left to the philosophers. I will concede however that there's an annoying element to EchoLink, but it's the fault of the developers and not so much the users themselves.

Allow me to explain: Most if not all EchoLink users are unaware that when they connect to a repeater or simplex link the server software by default transmits an announcement over the air which says "Connecting to EchoLink [callsign] -- Connected". Since a lot of EchoLink users are looking for QSOs (amateur-speak for conversations) they tend to hop from repeater to repeater looking for traffic. If a repeater's quiet, they tend to silently disconnect and go looking elsewhere. And again the server software by default transmits an announcement which says "[callsign] -- Disconnected". To the locals on the repeater, this can seem a bit rude. If the EchoLink user was looking for a QSO, then why didn't he transmit and ask if anyone was interested/available to chat? So throughout the day you hear a lot of Connect-Disconnect, Connect-Disconnect...over and over again. After a while, you might start to think that maybe EchoLink users really are bozos.

However I think the users are largely not to blame for this. The connection announcements are not played back to the EchoLink client's inbound audio, so users don't know about them unless they're listening to the repeater in question. Most EchoLink users connect to remote repeaters or links in other parts of the country or even around the world, so they often don't ever hear what goes out over the radio. I once sent a detailed email to the EchoLink developer team explaining all this. I was told that a repeater/link admin can turn off the announcements, but they're on by default. Most admins clearly don't bother to turn announcements off, and the users are unaware of them. I suggested to the EchoLink developers that they might want to add a note to the EchoLink FAQ/guide explaining all this, but they didn't. And so EchoLink users will continue to unwittingly annoy repeater users, and apparently the developers think this is OK. I don't understand this, but whatever. Therefore, here are my How Not To Be An EchoLink Bozo tips:

  • Be aware that every time you connect/disconnect, your callsign is transmitted over the air.
  • Knowing the preceding it should be no surprise why when I further suggest: Don't repeatedly connect/disconnect to the same repeater. It is amazingly annoying to the locals when you do.
  • Try saying hello if it's quiet. You may be surprised at how many locals are listening and willing to come back and chat with you.
  • Be careful about "calling CQ" on a repeater. CQ is traditionally used for simplex contacts, and a repeater is not a simplex system. Some people won't care, but others will think that you're a bozo. If the EchoLink node ends in "-R" it's a repeater and I advise against calling CQ. If the node ends in "-L" (a link node) then CQ is probably OK.
  • Don't ask for a QSL card because you made a contact over EchoLink. People will think you're a bozo. For that matter; I will think you're a bozo. QSL cards are for commemorating simplex contacts. Would you send a QSL card to someone you chatted with over Skype?

11 comments:

KI4WLR said...

Thanks for the explanation on the Echolink system. I have recently installed and configured the software and, being a new ham, wasn't sure about proper operating procedures until a nice seasoned ham come on and helped.

I do think the Echolink system itself has merit, and I have now made several "dx-ish" contacts through the system. Thanks for the post, 73, KI4WLR

Katie said...

Hey Witman/Sparqi,

Grandpa used to be a Ham so it was fun reading through some of your blogs.

Take care,
Goatiegirl

Paul L. McCord Jr. said...

This was a very good post. As an IRLP node owner, I can relate to the attitudes people have. Some of the comments about being an Echolink Bozo could have easily been changed to IRLP, or any other voice over IP system. I like them but I have noticed there is a segment of the population that just does not like them. I can understand having a partiality to one mode of communication over another but this passion/hatred for voice over IP is just not rational. I like these types of people the anti cell phone nazis. The people that are so militant about not using your cell phone in your car while ignoring eating, putting on make up among other things. I have added your blog to my blogroll because you have some very interesting posts. Since your blog does not allow anonymous posts where I can put it in there I will post it here.

Thanks again,
Paul

Thateldoo said...

I'm a new Ham...now General Class, going for my Extra. Your article caught my eye as I have the "want" to explore every aspect of Amateur Radio. My HF rig is a TS-520, HT is a Yaesu and my mobile is a Yaesu. My wife, KE7NMJ (General) and I are members of ARES, ARRL, EMCOMM WEST Committee, SARA and the local club, SNARS and have recently installed ECHOLINK on our PC's. Thanks for your explanations, but don't be too harsh on the new technology as it is Hams that experiment and enhance new technology to the point that the general public gets to use it. It was Hams that first used VOICE over the airwaves...my God can you imagine the problems "that" caused for those dit-daw-dit geeks back then (the war still lingers!). TV...don't turn on the TV if your a dyed-in-the-wool CODE Ham...but it was TV that Hams also brought to the airwaves! Hmmm...is there a pattern here? YES, it's the technological know-how of Hams...those that tinker in the Ham Shack...that have the need to go beyond the norm...experiment (as the FCC has given us that License to do so, acutally we worked hard to pass the tests and we, as Hams, earned it), devise ways that are different!
I've only made HF contacts across the States, but did hear a QSO between a Ham in Chile and the US during a brief moment of sun activity a few weekends ago but will keep trying to get "over the edge of our flat world" and see who's there!
But I'll also use ECHOLINK. Now that you've explained some Do's and Don't's, I'll be a more responsible user...thanks for your post! N2RDO...in to radio...see you on the airwaves!

Don Weissgerber - N9GOD said...

The connect announcement (and lack of notification that it occurs) is a serious problem I think. It happened to my on my first attempt to connect to a nearby 2M repeater. Since my callsign is fairly unique, it was commented on by the mobile QSO I interrupted. I had no PTT function and could not respond. I'm sure the fellas involved think I'm a complete bozo hihi! Don N9GOD

Sharath said...

IN REPLY TO THE ORIGINAL POST:

Okaay, So, all this hooshah of Echolink not being real 'radio' and hence not worth a QSL card is way too pedantic for me to handle.

Face it! Echolink expands connectivity. Anyway, I never go around asking for QSL cards but some of the best conversations I've have had from Lebanon to Florida during hurricane-Katrina, or the Mexican farmer on VHF(unlicensed) were on Echolink!!

Sparqi said...

Wanted to comment here myself, and respond to Sharath.

First off; I appreciate everyone taking the time to read my blog and discuss Echolink here. I try to write content which is interesting and asks relevant questions; taking the time to post your thoughts validates my effort and I appreciate that.

Sharath: I by no means am one of the "Echolink is not real radio" types. I use Echolink quite a bit. I've made some very interesting contacts; my most memorable was SU1KA in Cairo. The guy can see the pyramids from his living room window; how cool is that?

My point about QSL cards is that there's really no propagation challenge in Echolink, and thus a QSL card isn't warranted. I wouldn't (and I suspect most amateurs wouldn't) QSL someone contacted on a repeater. Asking for a QSL for making a repeater contact is likely to net you a "bozo" status. So is connecting via Echolink two repeaters, or a PC and a repeater, any different? My caveat on QSL for Echolink QSOs is based on this comparison.

Peter said...

My son just got his ticket and is preparing to get his Amateur badge in the local AOG Rangers program. I was thinking (b/c we don't have any equipment past HTs) that he could get his 5 required QSLs via Echolink. Thanks for warning us against doing that. We will still use Echolink though so your other comments are very valuable as well.

Pete KC5RTI

Orion said...

First off I wish Echolink would mention the fact that it transmits your call sign. I had problems with my mic for the first month I had echolink up and running and didn't realize it. Now I feel like a Bozo.

Joseph Armbruster said...

Hey, my name is Joseph Armbruster (KJ4JIO) and I recently discovered EchoLink. I'm a software developer by day and was wondering who the developers of EchoLink are? I couldn't find source or anything of the sort online. Who develops it, do you know?

Thanks!

ps: you can email me at
josepharmbruster
@gmail.com

Pat Cook, KB0OXD said...

You missed one VERY IMPORTANT thing about those CONNECT/DISCONNECT announcements we sysops hear.

Sometimes A LOT of them are simply IMPROPERLY CONFIGURED ROUTERS.

This too isn't really the fault of the end user because the EchoLink Developers didn't take into consideration that many Hams aren't that savvy when it comes to the modern digital technology, which has time & time again proven to be a poorly-conceived one considering that many of the older Hams are still used to the ole Morse Code keyer & have (Until recently for whatever reason) only have (Had) ONE computer.

Just something else to take into consideration. Cheers & 73 :)