VOIP for Amateur Radio
Echolink is a free computer program which was developed by Jonathon Taylor, K1RFD specifically for the purpose of permitting Amateur Radio Operators to communicate with one another over the internet. In it’s most basic form, the Ham’s computer is equipped with a sound card and microphone, and is connected via the internet to a similarly equipped computer operated by another Ham somewhere else. The other Ham can be across town or in some other country.
More elaborate systems have radio equipment connected to the computer permitting the same communication to occur using nothing but the radio. The W6CO repeater system, operated by the Silverado Amateur Radio Society (SARS) is such a system. When someone “connects” to the W6CO repeater, his callsign is announced over the air and from then on, anything the other Ham says is repeated. Any licensed Ham hearing this signal can converse with him just as if he were using the repeater with a radio. Standard operating protocol is used including station identification.
For more information on the Echolink program, visit http://www.echolink.org/
Some things to keep in mind if you decide to install Echolink on your computer:
Echolink requires 3 open ports in order to communicate. These ports are viewed by most firewall and other security systems as a “vulnerability” and often communication is prohibited by the computer. A symptom of this happening is a “timeout” when you try to connect to someone. If this happens to you, look for a firewall either in your operating system or one installed as an application such as ZoneAlarm. Other firewalls exist in your router, if you use one, and your DSL modem. (rare). You can find much help on correcting firewall issues on the Echolink website.
Before you connect “live” to a repeater or another station, test your connectivity and audio using the Test Server. This server is designed to let you hear what you sound like and is a closed circuit system so no one else can hear. This is a good thing because if you are using the microphone that came with your computer, or one like it, your signal is probably horrible! Listen to yourself carefully and if you don’t like the way you sound, neither will anyone else. Most people however, are too polite to tell you so check it carefully. A perfectly acceptable microphone is available for under $20 at most electronic stores. A headset with a boom mic makes things more comfortable. The node number of the test server is 9999. You can also connect using the toolbar at the top of the screen; click on “Station” and select “Connect to Test Server”.
When you finally connect to another station, particularly a repeater or link, listen a minute before you press the push-to-talk control. If you connect to just listen in, be aware that most systems are set up to announce your callsign when you connect. If you make a habit of continually connecting to a repeater without saying anything, you will soon be considered a pest. Make yourself known.
If you throw out a call, such as “KG6ABC monitoring, anyone around?” don’t be too quick to disconnect. Many times, there will be several stations hearing you but everyone is waiting for someone else to answer you. It may take 2 or 3 attempts to get someone to come back to you. Don’t be discouraged, that’s just the way it is.
Good luck, and enjoy the system!