Monday, January 26, 2009

EchoLink and the Spirit of Amateur Radio.

EchoLink is an interesting new system that allows amateur radio operators to access radio systems (and in particular, repeaters) over the Internet. It's a lot like The Internet Repeater Linking Project, except that EchoLink is not limited to repeater station membership. On EchoLink, individual hams can be nodes and connect with repeaters around the world. The only requirement is to prove to the system managers that you are a licensed amateur radio operator. Fortunately, at least for US hams, proof of holding a Logbook Of The World signing key is sufficient. If you don't have one of those, then other means can be used to validate your license.

So far, so good. EchoLink software is available for Windows, but additionally, a program called EchoMac has been made available for MacOS X users to use.

EchoMac inspired me to perhaps give a thought to writing an EchoLink client iPhone app. Since EchoMac is open source, I should be able to use it to figure out the protocol. But I shouldn't have to resort to that. It's probably easier to simply implement the protocol from its documentation - something I've done a few times before.

There's no mention on the EchoLink site of any protocol documentation. Now, since your connection to the EchoLink servers requires callsign/password authentication, there's no particular Security by Obscurity going on here. That means that there should be no problem with sharing the protocol spec.

So I sent an inquiry in to the EchoLink folks. Here's their reply:


Thanks for writing.

There isn't any good developer documentation available, since the EchoLink system itself was not envisioned as a developer's platform, and we don't encourage development of clients for other platforms.


Really? These are Amateur Radio operators telling folks that they don't encourage development of alternative client software. Do they have any grasp of the history of amateur radio? Have they actually read §97.1(c)?

I still think I'm going to give it a try, since I'm still waiting for sufficient budget to return to the DATV arena and want something to do in the meantime, but I just thought it unbelievably astonishing that that kind of attitude could exist within this hobby.

29 comments:

Gerry Hull said...

Did you ever reverse-engineer EchoLink?

Nick said...

No, but the author of EchoMac must have (unless he got protocol documentation that they're unwilling to give me). EchoMac is open source (it's hosted on SourceForge), so if I want to go ahead with the iPhone port I'll have to use that, I guess.

Nathan said...

I would also love to see an iPhone client for EchoLink, although I'm not too sure what the best way to handle PTT would be, and I'm also not too sure how easy it would be to get those UDP packets to flow around on the 3G networks.

In any case, I have to say that although I think EchoLink is an awesome idea, the Windows client leaves much to be desired. I haven't tried EchoMac, but I really can't understand why they would want to restrict the available platforms.

Guido said...

I totally agree that the answer of the Echolink folks is not in the spirit of amateur radio. However, I would not be demotivated by this and try to use the source code of EchoMac to come up with a client for the iPhone. Actually, I was also thinking of writing an iPhone client since it seems to be an ideal device for using Echolink. Today, everyone has a mobile phone on the go which could then be easily used to connect to your ham radio friends even if you don't have your radio equipment with you.

David Pye said...

I am currently trying to write a Linux-based C# GUI-driven client.

I'm also reverse engineering the protocol using source from both existing linux clients and experimentation...

I am documenting what I've come up with here to prevent everybody having to reinvent the wheel!

http://davidmpye.co.uk/node/24

Drew @ LTCtree.com said...

Check out the rpt-dir project - Scott has a great linux project for echolink and may be a resource.

http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/rtpDir/

Owen said...

Wow... an EchoLink client for the iPhone would be *awesome*. I would use it a LOT, although I admit that the general volume for such an app would be low by iPhone standards.

Don't let the wet blankets deter you. If the protocol was implemented by an open source project, go for it! I will gladly pay for such an app - although you won't make much money on it...

KK6AC said...

I do not know much about programming. But if you guys come up with something for the iPhone and it is compatible ( meaning apple accepted and the iPhone doesn't shut down) I would love to have an app for that! I would be willing to pay ~$20.00 for it. Thanks for even considering it!
KK6AC

Gerald said...

I think an echolink app would be awsome for the iPhone and would gladly pay $20+ for it. The only problem I could see it it would have to be a wifi only app, I don't think we can convince ATT and Apple the it not an app to making free phone calls on.

Edmond said...

There could be 2 versions , one for US only for wifi only via official appstore and one for all other countries plus US via Cydia on jailbroken phones allowing more than just wifi meaning also EDGE and 3G.

Chad said...

I have some experience with iPhone development and am also interested in such a project.

If you were to use the Mac project as a reference you would have to release it under the same license probably, which I wouldn't consider a problem but it's something to keep in mind if you're looking to sell it.

Bob said...

All,

I, too, am interested in writing an iPhone client for Echolink. I've written several iPhone apps (none in the App Store, yet), but I am willing to take the challenge.

Has anyone actually made progress on an iPhone app yet?

73 de Bob, W6EI

Steve H said...

I'd be will ing to pay for an iPhone echolink client for sure.
And that is odd about them not wanting to share code or info to expand horizons

Brian said...

would love to see a APP for Echolink for either iphone or ipod touch since the ipod touch does have a mic input it should work well for this app also i was just reading that apple is opening up the VOIP to the iphone for use for like skype and google talk

Wayne Edgar said...

There is a Java client for EchoLink that is open source under the BSD license. https://javecho.dev.java.net/
Hope that helps!

Lang2x said...

Hey all, For the meantime i've been using my iPhone tethered with my Macbook for on the go QSO, but for some reason i can't use Echomac. It recognizes the servers and populates the list but would not connect to the links. When i use wifi it has no problem connecting to the links. If any have an explanation to this it might help developing the iPhone App which im very excited about.

apt101 said...

You will probably have to use echolink proxy to get around some of the routing issues on the AT&T network.

VK3FOUL said...

I started writing an iPhone Echolink client, based on the Echomac sourcecode. I got as far as getting the control channel code from echolinux threaded, before I received an answer directly from Echolink after I enquired into getting a hold of some doco.
I think you ALL will be very pleased at the response I got, which I am sure you will all agree vindicates then from the response the OP got from them.
Fingers crossed.

VK3FOUL said...

Sorry! The response was.....

We don't have documentation available to developers for the protocols EchoLink
uses, except to say that the open-source project called CQINet (on SourceForge) is probably the best reference.

However, I should mention that an "official" release of EchoLink for the iPhone and iPod touch is already in development and is in the testing stages currently.

Brian said...

Cool that would be Great any ideas of release dates?

Anonymous said...

That is awesome news. =)

-KG6GPN

Anonymous said...

A local ham was just asking about Echolink for his iPhone today. There *IS* active interest in this app.

Poopop said...

Nick: In response to your 1/26/10/5:56PM blog, I submit the following copied from EchoLink's web site.

"Is EchoLink available for a smartphone or PDA, such as an iPhone or a Windows Pocket PC?
Many handheld computers (PDAs) and smart phones now have wireless networking and audio capability. An edition of EchoLink for the Apple iPhone and iPod touch is currently in beta test, and is expected to be released soon. Editions of EchoLink for other mobile platforms, such as Android, are also a possibility in the future. Please note that Windows PC applications such as EchoLink cannot be installed on a Windows Mobile device."

Regards,
Kirby Logan/K4KGL

NoRemorse said...

The iPhone app is now available on the App store!

Mat said...

You probably already know this but the app is out.

http://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewSoftware?id=350688562&mt=8

Brian said...

our wishes have been answered i have install the app and it is working great on the ipod touch 2nd gen if anyone want to chat my call is kc2lit name is brian from FN20 EPA

Lang2x said...

I've been using the Echolink app since it came out. For a free app it's a steal. Is there a way to donate? I would love to support the developers of this app.

Ham Radio said...

It doesn't look like there is an 'official' support group, yet, for the new client (latest is v1.1, I believe), so we've started one.

http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/echoiphone/

I've also informed Jonathan K1RFD that we've done this.

It appears that it's someone on their development team that released it, so I'll let you know of any reply.

In the meantime, the group is there for all to use.

Best,
Mike M0GSC

stanley said...

what about symbian?? It has the largest market share for mobile os and is now open source...I have started working on an aprs app using python and then i may look into echolink 73 stan 9h1lo www.9h1lo.net on my site is the link to the aprs60 project albeit still in its infancy