eQSL.cc Position on the ARRL LOTW
  Our analysis of the impact of the LOTW specification on eQSL.cc and its users
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eQSL.cc Position on the ARRL Logbook of the World Specification
Page references and analysis are based on the Logbook of the World Design Specification, V4.1B dated May 29, 2001
eQSL.cc Position
Our position is that there is room in the amateur community for both LOTW and eQSL.cc to coexist. We believe that the systems will be used as follows:
  • eQSL.cc: Hams and SWLs, as a method of exchanging QSL cards and to participate in our awards and contests,
  • LOTW: A subset of hams who are primarily interested in helping others earn DXCC

After repeated attempts, the ARRL has been unwilling to accept change requests in the design of LOTW as it has been published, and we do not expect them to make any changes that would make it easier to establish a server-to-server link between LOTW and eQSL.cc.

Following is a rationale for why we believe the two systems will not be able to communicate with each other, unless ARRL makes some fundamental policy changes.

The ARRL Logbook of the World (LOTW) is fundamentally a mechanism for automated submission of DXCC logs by licensed amateur radio operators (p.38). It is not an electronic QSL application (p.83), and many features are missing from the specification document that would make LOTW suitable for general electronic QSLing or for use by SWLs:

  • Users will not have access to received QSLs unless they were submitted as part of an ARRL award program (p.25,32,33,34)
  • No QSL card graphic design software
  • No QSL card display or printing capability in the client
  • No ability to notify users when new QSLs have arrived
  • No ability to correct or retract erroneous logs (p.22)
  • No peer-to-peer transmission scheme
  • No ability to query the sender of a QSL in the event of a disagreement
  • No ability to support non-amateur callsigns (SWLs)
  • No recognition for QSOs if one ham logs start of QSO time and the other logs end of QSO time (p.32)
  • Users would have to look up e-mail addresses every time they wanted to send QSLs

LOTW uses a client-server architecture, wherein the client is not a web browser, but rather consists of a QSO logging program that has been specially modified to incorporate the LOTW communication protocol. ARRL has developed a software package (API) that the authors of current logging programs can incorporate into their programs to provide the added features. Hams desiring to use LOTW will need to wait until log software publishers have incorporated those features into their software, and will then need to upgrade their log software or purchase a different logging program that supports LOTW. Meanwhile, ARRL publishes a small converter that digitally "signs" an ADIF file and prepares it for use by LOTW.

The API is complex, and it could take several years before most logging software publishers have incorporated the API into their products. For users with Macintosh, Unix, or Linux systems, the wait may be even longer.

The LOTW specification calls for each log entry to be packaged with a digital signature to prevent tampering and to authenticate the originator. Hams who want to use LOTW will have to register with ARRL and receive a certificate to attach to those log entries before they can be uploaded to LOTW.

To solve the question "Is the sender of this logbook the licensed amateur radio operator he claims?" ARRL will use the same mechanism that eQSL.cc pioneered in 2000: manual license review and approval. The ARRL will not accept licenses already approved by eQSL.cc, so every person wishing to use LOTW will have to re-apply through ARRL, pay the appropriate fees, etc. The difference is that ALL users will have to be authenticated by ARRL, whereas in the eQSL.cc system, you can participate in the basic eQSLing fun without becoming authenticated.

While the ARRL scheme requires a special program to be running at the user's end, there are some functions that are performed via a web browser interface (p.35,36). These functions use the same UserID/Password security scheme that eQSL.cc uses to protect those web-based functions from unauthorized access. (Yes, the same process that ARRL claims is "not secure enough" for eQSLs!)

ARRL Policies
Some policy issues are noted in the specification that make it unlikely that eQSL.cc would be able to establish a server-to-server link to the LOTW system:

  • ARRL does not accept our security mechanism, (even though it is commonly used by banks, brokerages, virtually every web site with a shopping cart, and their own web site!), and will not accept any logs that were not packaged with a digital signature at the source;
  • Our users want to be able to submit logs to other organizations for contests and awards, whether or not they were initially uploaded via the LOTW mechanism, and ARRL has said it will put restrictions on what can be done with logbook information residing in the LOTW (p.39,40);
  • Only the first holder of any given callsign will be allowed to use the system (p.12). eQSL.cc supports multiple users who have held the same callsign at different times. This will create an unsolvable problem in communicating between the two systems;
  • No contacts that were made prior to the user's registration with LOTW will be accepted into LOTW (p.12). This means that the logs in eQSL.cc would not be accepted into LOTW. It also means that everyone participating in LOTW will be essentially starting with a fresh logbook and that it will be a long time before anyone earns a DXCC based solely on electronic logs.

We believe it is unfortunate that ARRL made some of the technical and policy choices it did in designing its Logbook of the World, because these will make it impossible to communicate with other existing systems that have already accumulated large databases of QSOs such as eQSL.cc.

But there is nothing in the specification that would prevent users from uploading ADIF logs into eQSL.cc with their web browsers, and then using their new logging programs to upload those same contacts into LOTW if they are interested in helping others earn their DXCC.

Dave Morris, N5UP
Founder and Webmaster, eQSL.cc

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