Echolink is one type of VOIP – Voice Over Internet Protocol, that is exclusive to Amateur Radio. If you use your cable provider as your home phone service, you are using VOIP every time you use the phone. Skype is another form of VOIP, but neither Skype nor your home phone require the operator to be licensed by the FCC. Echolink is regulated under Part 97, so all Amateur Radio rules apply. This means you must have an Amateur Radio Technician Class license or higher to use Echolink.

Echolink has several different ways in which users can utilize it in their communications. 1) Computer-to-Computer; 2) Computer-to-Repeater; 3) Repeater-to-Computer; 4) Repeater-to-Repeater; or any combination of these.

You will find three types of Echolink stations – those that end in ‘-R’, ‘-L’ and no suffix. R & L both mean that the station on the other end is in “Sysop” mode, meaning the radio and computer are connected, and one controls the other. The ‘R’ means that the Sysop is being done over two frequencies (one transmitting and one receiving), in traditional Repeater fashion. The ‘L’ means the Sysop communication is happening over a simplex frequency. Remember, in both cases the R and L represent the Sysop set-up on the other end. If you are going to connect your computer to say your Kenwood D710A, then you may need to register for a -R or -L connection on Echolink.

The stations without a suffix are simply “Users” using a computer with an internet connection. User-to-User means there is no RF involved.

To utilize Echolink using your personal computer, you will need to download the Echolink Software (much like you would download Skype) from Echolink’s website (www.echolink.org) . Once you have downloaded the software and are setting it up, you will be asked to validate your call sign/license. There are various methods offered (i.e. faxing a copy of your original call sign). The program will explain what information you need to have for validation, or for a list in advance go to www.echolink.org and click on “Validation”.

Both the download and validation is FREE!

Once the software is installed and validated, all you need is a good quality working computer microphone. These are available from Radio Shack or any other computer electronics store.

Computer-to-Repeater and vice versa, seem to be the most popular methods of communication on Echolink. Use the find tool to locate a repeater you wish to connect to from your computer, and click “connect”. Some repeaters, like the N4SER, will automatically say your call sign on the repeater upon connecting and disconnecting.

Always wait a few moments to see that no one is using the local repeater, and to be sure that the auto-station identification has dropped. Now, put your call out there and see who you can meet. There is a slight delay in transmitting, so remember to always take time between transmissions to let the Echolink transmission drop from the repeater before transmitting again.

Follow similar steps to connect to an individual user.

In all cases, Part 97 still governs content, station identification rules, and rules of operation for VOIP – even if you are using computer-to-computer.

It’s the middle of a net and you see a buddy of yours is also connected via Echolink – go to the bottom right hand corner of the screen and you will find a spot to text him. All texts can be seen by anyone connect to Echolink with a computer.

Use the favorites folder in Echolink to easily find your favorite repeaters or stations.

It is good to mention that your are coming on Echolink and your location when giving your station identification to an -R or -L connection.

Each repeater is different, but generally, if you want to connect to an individual or another repeater (both repeaters must have Echolink), simply punch in the node number for the station you wish to connect to (see www.echolink.org or the back of your repeater directory for node numbers) using your DTMF microphone, or DTMF keys on your HT. Some repeaters will require a code or the # sign to be entered before connecting. Others don’t allow outgoing connections, only incoming connections. Check with the repeater’s trustee to find out such information. Information for the N4SER repeater can be found on the homepage.

To disconnect, generally dial ’73’ or ‘#73’.

Use good etiquette before dialing out on a repeater. Ask if the frequency is in use and then, after giving your call sign, announce what node number you will be dialing immediately followed by appropriate DTMF tones.

When leaving a link up without a QSO – make frequent announcements about the link – operators on the other end may hear someone on their local repeater in Tennessee, and not know that the other station is coming in from Florida.

To learn more about Echolink and VOIP, the Sarasota Emergency Radio Club recommends www.echolink.org and the Second Edition VOIP: Internet Linking for Radio Amateurs as published by the ARRL.