Echolink Is Not Radio

By Jose B Rivera - N2LRB

November 5, 2010 - In late 2005 I returned to Amateur Radio after an 9 year absence. I found that the radio equipment has gotten better and grown smaller. HTs packed more features in a smaller package and the cost had not gone up too much.  But I also came across the concept of Echolink.

This is how Echolink describes itself on its webpage: “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.”

imageAs you can see Echolink is using one’s computer to connect to another person’s computer via the internet that is then routed through their radio out to a repeater or straight out to SSB.  Now this is not getting into a local computer, to then get on a local repeater, though that is possible (kinda like remote control).  Most hams connect into Echolink and choose a repeater that they could not reach with their radio equipment or through a repeater system. When first explained to me I was puzzled.  Is that not HF without the radio? Why would computer internet communications ever be considered the same as over the air radio communications? I found that many hams considered Echolink radio communication. Echolink is not radio communications. It is computer networking software. Whereas radio communications is over the air communications.  If hams wish to talk long distance, they should get on HF and work the bands.

Echolink is no different than pick up ones cell phone and calling a phone patch input to a distant repeater and using that as a communications device.  How could any ham call that “radio communications”?  Is that not cheating a bit in stretching the term “radio communications”? Since the beginning of radio it’s definition has been communicating “wirelessly” “over the air” regardless of how that was done.  First came spark gap technology, then CW, followed by SSB, Ritty, Amtor, and all sorts of digital means to communicate.  But all of it was done “over the air”.  Not through telephone lines to a repeater and then over the air. Since Echolink itself is really computer intranet technology is can not ever be considered radio.

Now that is not to say that this can not or should not be used in case of an emergency where it may prove helpful.  Yes, go ahead and practice, drill using Echolink, but never confuse it with real over the air communications.  Sure it gets the job done, but what’s to stop hams from getting rid of their radio equipment all together and just get on the intranet that is Echolink?

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