Echolink: A love-hate relationship

I love VoIP as long as it is not related to HAM radio. For that very reason I don’t care about D-star much. Interesting technology, sure, but there’s something ugly about it – and it’s not only the puffed-up rig prices which make me dig my heels into the sand. All the wires I need end in the back of my garden and, old fashioned as I am, I think that’s the way it should be.

Yet I do use Echolink occasionally, mostly to keep in touch with people who are either out of range, or with old friends who can’t have antennas anymore. Contrary to newer systems like TeamSpeak, only licensed operators are allowed to use it. Here are a few cool places I found.

Coffee Shop?
If the Dutch hear the word ‘Coffee Shop’, there’s a good chance their first thought is something related to drugs. Not so in the USA, fortunately. I found the KB4SVP-L node aka ‘Our Coffee Shop’ while scanning all the available USA-based links and repeaters, and decided to check it out. This hangout is managed by Richard KB4SVP. Most regulars still have rigs and antennas, which make it possible to schedule a real QSO now and then. Come often enough and you become a member. Don’t show up for a while, and you will be decaffeinated. LOL! Website: http://www.our-coffee-shop.webs.com/

KQ2H via Echolink
We were spoiled lately with great conditions on 10 meters. Only 25 Watts or so proved to be enough to access KQ2H on 29.620 MHz, but the sun went into a quiet state lately. Too bad, as we all made a lot of friends there. Fortunately there’s W2FLA-R on Echolink, which is linked into the KQ2H repeater system. Great!

Reflecting vs Connecting
Should I be less negative about the Internet? Probably. Will I change my mind in the foreseeable future? Probably not. I like radio waves, not data packets. I love reflecting, not connecting. Sorry folks. Call me what you want, a dinosaur, a fossil – I’ll take it as a compliment!

Advertisements

Putting the TMV-71E to good use

I finally managed to find a cable to connect the Kenwood TMV-71 to Echolink. For a normal price, I mean. It will take a week or so to arrive. Configuring the link is easy, all the equipment is there, but I still have to select a usable frequency, probably on 2 meters.

The link won’t be on 24/7. Local regulations require me to be physically present at the station (*), unless I’m willing to pay a hefty fee for a special permit. Let’s experiment a bit first, I can always decide to change it into a more permanent link.

(*) Update: that strict rule has been changed. If I can control the system through the Internet, it should be fine.

Short review: Using Echolink on an Android tablet

I wanted a tablet too, as I quickly realized how convenient such a device is when surfing and e-mailing. After comparing all the current offerings, I decided to go for a tablet running Android. The one I bought is the Packard Bell Liberty Tab, which is 100% identical to the Acer Iconia Tab A500. Packard Bell doesn’t really exist anymore since 2007, the year Acer acquired that company. The only difference between the two tablets was price, and the beautiful ‘wine red’-colored back of the Packard Bell.

The iPad would have been a good choice too, thinner, less weight, but I didn’t like the lack of connectivity and hated the 4:3 aspect ratio of the screen. Nice to watch an old episode of Lucille Ball probably, but not for enjoying a recent movie.

Echolink software
The Echolink software for Android is free and can be found in the Android Market. Installation is a breeze, and the software proved to be quite stable, too. I didn’t experience any crashes at all, in spite of the fact that the version of the OS changed gradually from 3.01 to 3.2. After logging into the software with your callsign and password, you’re ready to go. Callsign and password will be remembered, so there’s no need to enter them over and over again.

Optimized for phones
It is clear that the software was designed with Android phones in mind, a world where resolution is limited and screens are relatively small. On tablets, the software looks a bit odd and stretched. When transmitting, for example, the complete screen disappears and makes place for one big microphone. That’s ok for a one to one QSO, but it is annoying when you are in a conference with a lot of unfamiliar callsigns. This is something worth changing as quickly as possible. A version for tablets, resembling the layout of the PC version, would be great.

Audio quality
The audio quality of the tablet itself is quite good, but when running Echolink the Packard Bell sounds a bit distorted. It is as if the software tries to compress the audio as much as possible. Although I can’t prove that this is the case, it would make sense: bandwidth is expensive when using a cell phone. If I’m right, this should be user selectable. After all, when using your own WiFi connection, the price of bandwidth is no issue.

Conclusion
Great for phones, less great for tablets. In spite of the current flaws, a ‘must have’ app nonetheless.