Work the world with EchoLink !
Developed in early 2002 by Jonathan Taylor, K1RFD, Echolink is an Internet linking software allowing you to contact other hams connected to the web. This application has spread rapidly among the ham community and is today used by over 200,000 amateur radios in 151 countries, with more than 5200 hams online at any time ! How can we explain such a success so rapidly ?
We have first to understand how works Echolink. Instead of using ionospheric layers to establish short or long-distance communications, K1RFD imagined to use the VoIP protocol, thus Internet in combination with RF linking and specially with V/UHF FM transceivers to work amateur stations. It is this RF Linking that makes the difference between Echolink and software simulating ham communication like HamSphere to name (a good) one that is limited to Internet linkings.
With Echolink, even users limited to V/UHF bands and having difficulties to work DX stations can use Internet to have conversations with amateurs located all over the world, at distances exceeding by far the performance of their FM transceiver. Indeed with time running it has appeared that this "web-assistance" has proven to be very useful and very performing.
Access and settings
Basically, EchoLink uses two different modes or clients : Single User and Sysop.
"Single user" does not use at all the radio while "Sysop" uses radio in two different ways : via repeaters or links (sometimes incorrectly referred to "Simplex Repeaters").
In Single user mode the ham is directly connected to the Internet through his computer using a low speed modem (as low as 36K), a fast DSL, a cablemodem (via the TV cabling system) or even a high speed fiber optic connection.
In Sysop mode, there are two possibilities that allow to amateurs to explore the infinity of remote RF connections :
- The Simplex linking : the amateur radio uses a V/UHF handheld or mobile transceiver tuned to a simplex frequency. So, in this case the amateur can be remote and emits by shortwaves to his base station. The linking can also be made using a Wi-Fi connection.
The base station has a VOX interface linked to a computer that process signals digitally before to send them over the Internet. This method is very flexible. The amateur has to stay at distance of contact of his station but not necessary in his shack. He can work from his living room or his backyard as far in fact as the signal emitted by his handheld can be captured by the base station. In Wi-Fi, the distance can reach several hundred of meters.
- The Repeater linking : the transceiver is tuned to the frequency pair of a local repeater (or connected to it directly). Of course, by design, here also the amateur works essentially remotely. Underline that in this mode, the amateur works with a fixed, portable or mobile VHF or UHF FM transceiver and emits to a FM repeater located a few dozen kilometers away. In very specific working conditions he could reach repeaters located over 100 km away.
A Sysop using simplex links receives a call sign with a -L suffix (e.g. LX4SKY-L), and he receives a -R suffix if he uses a repeater linking. This distinction is helpful to stations connecting to your link, since operating practices differ somewhat between repeaters and simplex frequencies, and it is useful to know, before connecting, which type of link is being provided.
NB. Many people have missed the fact that a -R station is used anytime you connect to a repeater pair while -L is only used for simplex frequency. This is true if using a direct wired connection or a RF linked connection to the repeater.
Who can use EchoLink ? All licensed hams - but only them - can use EchoLink, even if you are limited to V/UHF or novice (only valid in Europe). Don't care if you do not have a good antenna or if you only own a low power VHF or UHF transceiver.
Don't care no more if you don't own any ham equipment at all due to space limitations or financial reasons. Even if you are temporary abroad but if you can find an Internet connection in a cyber café or to friends using a portable computer with a modem connection, you own all necessary equipment to work with EchoLink !
If you want to work so-called "DX stations" or ragchewing in "local QSO", then there is no problem ! Surprised ? You can !
Validation and activation
EchoLink is a freeware running under Windows, Linux or MacOS that you can download from the Internet. Version 2 and above is made of a 2.8 MB file that you must install on your computer following the wizard instructions. The application is configured in a few seconds.
The only two conditions to meet are next : you must own a valid ham license (be listed in the callbook or licensed this year) and provide a valid email to EchoLink support team. These two data will be used to valid your access on the system as without them curious and hackers will be already stopped at the portal.
The validation request can be done by fax or letter or sending a copy of your ham certificate (FCC, HAREC or equivalent) by email to the support team. Once your call sign is validated you will receive a node number to assign to your computer and a password to activate your connection to the EchoLink server. Store preciously these information.
The validation delay can last between 1 hour and more than one day. In the worse case the validation is so long because the document you have sent does not proof that you are a licensed amateur.
Once the application set up and your call validated, the program will fetch data and will display a kind of Explorer listing users and repeaters currently online as shown above.
Issue with your modem, router or firewall
If you see well Echolink users and your call sign in your national container but cannot establish any connection or if you quickly receive a time out, verify if your modem or your router is not faulty. Check also your firewall settings reading the documentation provided on Echoling FAQ page, specially the firewall solutions section.
Here a short procedure if you use Windows and either encounter a firewall test results "fails" instead of a "succeeded" on TCP port 5200 dedicated to Echolink or if your firewall states that it has blocked some features of Echolink.
In the best case (under Windows 7 and more recent versions) you have simply to select "unblock" so that your firewall accepts incoming network connections. But it not always the case.
So, quit Echolink and open the Windows Control Panel > Windows Firewall. Edit your settings to desactive your firewall and uncheck the Echolink exceptions.
Then relaunch Echolink. Test your firewall or router and usually Echolink should work on all TCP and UDP ports (succeeded).
At last, close Echolink, activate again your Windows firewall and check again that the Echolink exceptions have been added.
As a last resort, switch off all devices, then reboot your system and run EchoLink alone without loading any other application (neither your email system or Internet). You can also check your drivers in booting in "safe mode with networking" (pressing F8 at boot on Windows). Load your other applications once EchoLink is running.
If your configuration works properly, now browsing containers and users you can contact everybody if you like, even hams located on the other side of the Earth on the clic of the mouse ! This, without QRM, without be disturbed by the propagation or near stations arriving 59+ 0.5 kHz up or down. All stations arrive "59+" as if they worked you in the adjacent room ! I do not exaggerate.
Users, repeaters and live conferences
Working DX in prime time !
The demo at which I participated could not be more convincing, and was a complete success that totally convinced me of the utility and the power of this new tool, a feeling that I repeated to my correspondant who was very happy of my reaction.
Imagine a friend using EchoLink for long times ready to make you please in preparing a demonstration of the capabilities of this product.
Sitting in front of his XP computer Guenter had installed an independent electret microphone and two large external speakers for a few tens of euros. Launching EchoLink, a window opened displaying an Explorer à la "User Manager" showing standby/connected users and relays. At my request Guenter selected one user listed in the "Europe", "Monaco", container with the hope to find a French speaking ham.
At that time of the demo the folder contained no amateurs online but an active VHF repeater, 3A2MZ-L. Clic, space bar to emit (similar to the Push-To-Talk button) and a TX appeared in red at the bottom of the screen followed by the word "Connected" written in blue and bold. He was on the air... I didn't really believe him yet...
Guenter spoke as usual at good distance of his mic : "CQ DX, this is LX2MG calling in the company of LX4SKY. Do you hear me ?". Some seconds of expectations...
Then as surprised as we could be we got a prompt answer, very loud and clear - what surprised me first - in our speakers connected to Guenter's computer : "Hi OM, this is JS1....from Chiba, Japan. Hello. Do you speak French, parlez-vous français ?".
Imagine my surprise, as was Guenter to hear a Japanese speaking French ! In the morning I have tried to hear VK and JA stations on the 20, 15 and 10m using my magnetic loop. It was quasi impossible to get out a JA station due to QRM and bad propagation conditions... So the comparison was easy to do and I realized with some seconds of delay how powerful was this tool... Is this really a JA station, an OM calling from Japan that answered us by voice via Internet through a relay in 3A ? I didn't believe what I heard... But I knew very well computer performances, packet radio and other chat via Internet, and thus the idea was quickly accepted as possible, HI !
Whaow ! What a demonstration !... The QSO or rather the conversation continued so for about 15 minutes or more. At last we entered the call sign of our friend Ryu in the Alert log in order that his call sign be highlighted and bip the next time that it will reappear on screen.
For short, without necessary using ham radio equipement but using only a microphone and a speaker connected to a PC or better, using V/UHF relays connected to the Internet you can enter in contact with DX stations in a couple of seconds, loud and clear at all moment ! At the time of the QSO there were about 1500 licensed hams connected to EchoLink, unbelievable ! Today there are 30% more.
Time running, each time that I use EchoLink I am impressed again by its ease of use - even on portable via Wi-Fi -, the readability of signal, and its ability to be turned off and on to any repeater set up for this purpose. I can't no more go without this tool.
But don't be mistaken about my interests. I miss the bands noise, the weak signal but well readable coming from far DX stations, people calling CQ, pile-ups hubbub, without to forget the omnipresent QRM and QRN, as much characteristics that sign ham activities... EchoLink has not simulated all these "features" (what do HamSphere) and we can no more feel these very special sensations that we can also listen to using WebSDR.
Single-user and sysop modes
In the "single-user" mode of Echolink, in which you are directly connected to the Internet, there is no need to invest 4000 € in an high-end RTX and a 7 bander Titanex beam placed 20m high to work DX stations. Amateurs are online, some through their computer others through their 2m/70cm portable (or even 6m in UK). You can even make conferences with amateurs in VK and JA simultaneously or create a true conference server on your PC in installing a small software called "theBridge".
During all conversations, if you use a high speed connection (Optic fiber, DSL or cable modem) you can in parallel browse a website or send to your contact a picture without QRM (not as can be SSTV, HI!) or any other document by email as his coordinate are listed in a small window opened in the program with other useful data.
Echolink is complete enough to support a direct connection to your V/UHF transceiver and relay the information over the Internet and vice versa. Let's see now how to configure a RF link (-L node) and a repeater (-R node) under Echolink.