Probably just about every ham has heard of various “nets” that operate with RF only. Most cities have a local club or local repeater net. Net being a short form of the more formal network. Most A.R.E.S. groups, usually organized by county, have a weekly net. A.R.E.S. of course stands for Amateur Radio Emergency Services group. On the HF side of things there are wide ranging nets such as the County Hunters net. There are RV nets designed to communicate with and amongst recreational vehicle owners. And of course there are maritime nets designed to be of assistance to ships of all sizes and types at sea.

In the past 5 – 10 years hams have begun to interface their radios with computers to form new types of networks. These can be confusing and foreign. In fact, some ham radio perators believe that if you operate via these types of networks that it is not “real” ham radio. First I will explain a few of these types of networks and then I will give my ever so humble opinion.

IRLP – this network is the Internet Radio Linking Project. The objective is to use the best features of these two types of communication pipes to produce a more powerful communication pipeline. The network in simple form allows a ham’s radio to be connected to one internet connected computer. At the other end of the internet connection (and this is a many to many connection) another computer receives the internet data sent by the first computer and relays it to another ham radio which then transmits the communications back over ham radio frequencies. Here’s the advantage. A small hand held radio within communication distance of an IRLP linked ham radio now can communicate with many hams all around the world with FM and VOIP quality! How much is this worldwide network? FREE!


EchoLink – The basic part of this network is a clone of the IRLP network. This network takes communications one step further. With EchoLink you add the ability to communicate from your computer with a microphone and speakers first. Then the audio goes through the internet pipe and out through a distant connected ham radio. This network is also FREE!

d-Star – This networks takes the EchoLink network even one step further. As long as your radio is connected to your computer – this network adds the capability to transmit data files. Here’s the neat part. No internet connection or the internet is down? No problem – d-Star can handle the data transfer all via radio! And this network is also FREE!

While the networks are FREE, equipment required to access the network (radio, computer, etc.) does have to be acquired. Also, there may be a very small fee to have your radio license confirmed. And, you must be a ham radio operator to access these networks.

Now for my opinion – are these networks “real” radio? Not according to those stuck in the mud folks that really don’t see these networks as the natural evolution of converging technologies. To them it’s like cheating if you use anything other than radio waves to communicate. I understand that the accomplishment for long distance communications is not the same. But these networks ARE real ham radio. They are the future. They vastly improve communications and the ability to communicate is one of the major objectives of ham radio.

Are there too many radio networks? NO! Each one is a new step forward. Just like digital communications modes they each have a purpose and have built followers and equipment infastructure. There is room for plenty more!


Source by Jon Kreski

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