An EchoLink app has recently been released for Android mobile phones. That makes two smartphone platforms – Android and iPhone – that can now be used to access EchoLink. Is this really a good idea?
Let me make it clear from the start: I like EchoLink. What I like about it is that it can be used to link repeaters in different parts of the country or the world, and even allows individual operators like myself to set up simplex voice nodes without the technical complications, expense and licensing issues of running a repeater, the aim being simply to get some interesting activity on what may otherwise be a more or less dead band.
I realize that contacts made using EchoLink are not traditional amateur radio point to point contacts, so I don’t want to start up the old “it’s not ham radio” argument again. But I don’t think the point of most contacts made on VHF FM is that you worked direct and exchange QSLs afterwards. They are just conversations between hams. The fact that the transmission went most of the way over the internet is of no more significance than if you used a conventional repeater. However it does matter to me that radios are used at each end, otherwise it’s internet chat not a radio contact in any shape or form. So far, that seems to be the case with most of the EchoLink contacts I have made, but for how long?
The trouble with EchoLink apps for smartphones is that they are VoIP apps pure and simple. They encourage the use of EchoLink as a VoIP chat mode. Smartphones are so popular now that I’m afraid this could become the dominant way of using the system. It could even replace ham radio handhelds. Users are going to ask themselves: Why bother carrying this goofy looking radio about when I can just use my phone? One more nail in the coffin of amateur radio?