Easy worldwide communication for all hams
For some time now The American Legion Amateur Radio Club (TALARC) has hosted an Internet Radio Linking Project (IRLP) net the second Saturday each month at 1800/1900 UTC (or 2 p.m. Eastern time). IRLP was initiated by Dave Cameron, VE7LTD, as a way of using the Internet to link one or more amateur radio stations together. IRLP (which stands for the Internet Radio Linking Project) uses VoIP, or voice over Internet Protocol, and allows even a handheld station – if within range of an amateur radio station connected to the Internet – to communicate worldwide. EchoLink allows for connection to the Internet by licensed ham radio operators using a computer with sound card and microphone via an Internet connection, or even with a smartphone with the EchoLink app installed. D-Star is a digital voice and data protocol specification communications method used by many ICOM radio owners. While we won't cover D-Star operations here, TALARC does host a monthly net with D-Star Net Control, Mark, W2UIS.*
The following few paragraphs will cover IRLP and EchoLink in more detail. Remember that EchoLink procedures are similar to IRLP, except that you are connecting to a “conference” instead of a node or reflector, and some of the operating conditions may be different. For registration and information about EchoLink operations and operator courtesies, visit www.EchoLink.com. EchoLink does not require a radio to communicate, but it does require users to be registered and to hold a valid amateur radio license. EchoLink users must also have a connection to the Internet through a computer with sound card and microphone, or simply with a handheld smartphone with EchoLink app installed.
How do they work?
For IRLP, each station connected to the Internet is called a node, and can be a simplex station or a repeater. Each node has a computer that links the station's UHF/VHF radio to the Internet through the computer's sound card. Each node also has a unique four-digit identifier. For instance, a local repeater here in Indianapolis is node 9200. If you are within range of a node in your area, you have the capability of worldwide communication simply by using the DTMF keys on your radio to connect to your desired destination with a simple four-digit code.
One of the requirements of IRLP is that the node must be connected to a radio on the ham bands - either a repeater or a radio on a simplex channel. Both amateur radio and the IRLP are international in scope, and subject to international agreements which require that regulations in other countries be followed when the IRLP system is used there. By keeping to the rule that all IRLP traffic must originate from a locally received RF signal, it prevents non-amateur operators from transmitting over amateur frequencies. It also promotes the use of radios in amateur radio, hence the IRLP motto "Keeping the Radio in Amateur Radio." What's more, since IRLP nodes are located on the VHF/UHF amateur radio bands, any licensed ham radio operator may operate using this form of communication.
Where can I find a node?
You can look up more than 3,000 nodes listed at http://status.irlp.net. Once you have identified the node you will find a link that makes it easy for you to contact the station owner to ask permission to use the node. For a more complete picture about how IRLP works, visit www.irlp.net. (For more information about EchoLink, visit www.EchoLink.com.)
In the real world, computers connected to the Internet are identified by “IP addresses” that look similar to this: 233.000.33.33. In IRLP, the four-digit node identifier corresponds to the particular address of the computer you seek – the one connected to a radio. IRLP also confirms that the computers now connected to each other are actually authentic amateur radio stations by performing a series of checks, called “handshaking.” Now communications by voice can begin.
You might call and connect to a nearby node using a handheld radio, and key in a four-digit identifier for a node in a city on the other side of the country (or the world). The node's radio picks up the RF signal and converts the analog signal through the computer's sound card into the same digital packets as used by VoIP or Skype. The packets travel over the Internet to the destination node's computer, where they are converted back into analog voice signal and passed to the microphone input of the node's radio station. You may be using a handheld in central Indiana, but your voice is now heard in Brisbane, London, Tokyo or any number of destinations you might select. Any amateur answering your call through the now-open connection is heard on your handheld.
Reflectors are a special kind of super-node, really a computer server that takes in digital packets and shares them with all other nodes connected to the reflector. In this way multiple users can all talk to each other in the same way hams might rag-chew together on HF. There are some 300 reflectors around the world, and today each of these reflectors has 10 available “channels” with a unique four-digit identifier. Reflector nodes have identifiers that begin with the number 9 (9xxx), so a reflector indentified by “9200” is actually channel 0 of the 920X reflector. 9205 is channel 5 of the same reflector (and is our IRLP net channel for The American Legion Amateur Radio Club Net, courtesy of the reflector's owner, Dave Gingrich, K9DC, here in Indianapolis).
Some IRLP nodes and reflectors are even receptive and functional for both IRLP and EchoLink, combining the functions of the IRLP Reflector and the EchoLink Conference to allow simultaneous IRLP/EchoLink net operations, as we do here monthly on channel 9735. In fact there are many reflector channels unused today, although nets are springing up all over the world for a variety of clubs and even for specific topics, like antenna construction, QRP operation, EchoLink and yes, IRLP. For a list of such topics, visit www.irlptopics.net.
Connecting to the TALARC Net
The American Legion Amateur Radio Club IRLP/EchoLink net each month operates using the Crossroads Reflector IRLP Channel 9735, which is also the EchoLink *CROSSRDS* Conference, aka 9735.
The TALARC IRLP Net, for those of you with UHF/VHF and access to a local IRLP repeater, is held the second Saturday of each month at 1400 EST (1900 UTC). If you are too far away from an IRLP node to connect using that method, use EchoLink. To add EchoLink operability, we've moved to IRLP CHANNEL 9735. EchoLink users may connect using conference call sign *CROSSRDS* (aka 9735). Once connected, IRLP and EchoLink users can communicate with each other and with net control.
Let's say you're interested in giving these modes a try – what better way than to call in during our regular second-Saturday-of-the-month net for TALARC? Briefly, here's how to connect via IRLP. (For a more detailed explanation, visit www.irlp.net)
You've gotten permission from the repeater owner to use the local node through your club or through http://status.irlp.net.
After you have programmed the proper offset, tone and frequency to access your local node, take a deep breath, key your mike, wait a moment, say your call sign, and while still holding the transmit button press in the four-digit node identifier for the Crossroads Reflector channel 9205. “THIS IS KC9ANG [immediately press 9, 2, 0, 5]” and release the transmit button. After a moment, if you have connected properly, you will get a recorded announcement saying you have reached the correct reflector and channel.
At this point, listen for 30 seconds or so for operators who may already be using the reflector. If you connect during the net, we won't hear you unless you key your microphone and speak as directed by net control. Just like a local UHF or VHF net!
While communicating using IRLP, remember to pause for a breath after keying your mike before speaking. It takes a second or two for the handshaking to occur and for the various nodes to make the connections.
It is helpful to net control, as it is in all nets operating over a wide area with a variety of strange call sign prefixes, to give your call sign phonetically and slowly so that a good ID can be made. For local nets, we all can usually recognize the call from the voice … for IRLP and EchoLink, not so much. Be courteous and use the proper phonetic alphabet.
After your call-in, your local node owner may prefer that you not “stick around” for the rest of the net to finish since some nodes may be pulling double duty as local UHF/VHF repeaters when not connected to the Internet. Most owners are happy to have folks using the service, but common courtesy dictates that you ask. To disconnect, transmit “99” or “73” as seen below.
If you are using a computer or smartphone to operate with EchoLink, be very careful to disable or otherwise monitor your VOX (voice-actuated transmission). Background noise over your computer mike or telephone may cause you to inadvertently continue to transmit after you have finished your call. Good practice for all of us, in fact.
IRLP DTMF Control Codes that may be useful:
You may also, while connected, use some of the following DTMF codes during your session. You might, for example, transmit DTMF 73 after you have finished your call, or if after several minutes you become aware that no one is currently using the link and you wish to call up a new node. Remember, EchoLink may use different commands. For IRLP:
First, transmit your ID. Wait and listen for a moment to see if the node repeater is in use. Verify that the node is not already connected by sending 00.
With reflector use, the first thing we must all remember is to leave a gap between transmissions and wait before you speak for a second after you key up. Having said that, this is a good time to list the three main rules when connected to a reflector:
Pause, Pause, Pause!
Due to the slight increase in delays created by multiple Tone Squelch radios in the links between the repeater and IRLP link radio, a slight change in our normal operating procedures is required with IRLP.
By leaving a pause between transmissions it .....
users on other nodes a chance to check in.
other nodes time to send touch-tone commands to drop their node.
The most important guideline to remember is leaving a pause after pressing the PTT button as well as between transmissions.
Turn your VOX off. Ambient sounds on your microphone may keep your stations transmitting and block all communication on the net for minutes at a time. This is especially important for EchoLink operators using a cell phone or other handheld device.
(EchoLink procedures are similar except that you are connecting to a “conference” instead of a node or reflector. Some of the commands may also be different.)
Both IRLP and EchoLink are fun ways to operate – give it a try.
There you have it. If you haven't tried worldwide communication over IRLP or EchoLink, now is the time to give them a try. These new technologies give an interesting new twist to our hobby, and as a plus also allow amateurs of every license class access to worldwide voice communication. You might also explore the many reflector or conference channels with interesting content and gatherings of like-minded hams. Best of all, band conditions and propagation is never a problem!
Our thanks to www.irlp.net and to the Crossroads Repeater (Dave, K9DC, who also has written a very good primer on the use of IRLP at http://www.irlp.net/ref9200-policy.html). You may also wish to review general IRLP guidelines at http://www.irlp.net/guidelines.html.
There is a wealth of information out there about both IRLP and EchoLink, and even other forms of VoIP/radio communication formats like D-Star and many other digital voice and data systems. Grab it and get on the air.
*For more information on D-Star visit: http://www.dstarinfo.com/home.aspx
Bill Sloan, NZ9S, is vice president of The American Legion Amateur Radio Club (TALARC), at club station K9TAL at the national headquarters of The American Legion, 700 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis, Ind.