Thursday, November 03, 2005

Echolink conference

Yesterday I mentioned that I picked up a webcam with a built-in mic on Sunday for use with various IM and ham-related VOIP programs. Last night I participated in my first Echolink conference.

In a nutshell, Echolink is one way to extend the reach of VHF ham radios by connecting them to the Internet. Much ham activity on VHF (e.g., the 2M band) is via local repeaters. Repeater typically receive on one frequency then retransmit on another. I try to get on a MARC net at least once a week.

However, even though a repeater can greatly extend the usable range of VHF communications, VHF cannot compete with the HF bands for true long range commo. Unless, of course, you throw the Internet into the mix.

There are several systems which connect VHF repeaters to the Internet to allow world-wide communication using low power handy talkies, including IRLP, eQSO, Yaesu's WIRES, and Echolink. The access Echolink, even from a PC, requires you to hold a valid amateur radio license. eQSO on the other hand, does permit non-licensed operators to participate in "rooms" with no radio link.

The official Echolink software is for Windows, but there are Macintosh and Linux clients as well. There are two basic ways to access Echolink.

First, if there's an Echolink-capable repeater in your area you can connect to it with your radio, dial up another Echolink node, and talk to people on that node, who may be on a radio or a computer.

The second way to is to use the Echolink client and a computer with a sound card, speakers, and a mic to connect to a node. This is what I did last night.

The organizer of last night's conference scheduled the time and the node, and participants logged in. We had a couple who connected via radio, others used their PCs, while the organizer himself didn't have a mic on his PC, so he used a radio to connect to a repeater while simultaneously logged on at his PC, so he could read text messages and see who was in the conference.

I was impressed with the overall audio quality. Everyone was quite clear, better than some other VOIP programs I've tried AAMOF. The guys connected via radio did breakup sometimes, but those using their PCs and a mic were crystal clear.

Since this was the first time for most of us, last night was largely devoted to figuring the whole system out. Future conferences with this group will probably have a topic list for each meeting.

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