Internet radio gateways simply use the Internet to join repeaters or simplex stations together, using the latest voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) technology. There are several systems now in operation with the three most popular ones in the UK being eQSO, Echolink and IRLP.
Your radio signal is received by the local gateway, converted to digital, relayed via the Internet, converted back to audio and retransmitted by the remote gateway in another part of the world.
The Echolink gateway, used here in Exeter, operates in a conference server along with other gateways and PC based stations around the world. A transmission into one gateway is relayed to all the connected users and RF gateways at the same time, giving a superb coverage worldwide from VHF and UHF radio equipment.
Good or bad for Amateur Radio ?
Amateur Radio means different things to different people. Some like to see how far they can get under difficult conditions, some like to collect contacts and awards, others like to play with technology. Some people just like to meet new and interesting people around the world.
Love it or hate it Internet VOIP linking adds something new to the hobby. Using dedicated repeaters and link frequencies, it should not take anything away from, or interfere with, traditionalists who do not like the idea of repeater linking. It opens up Amateur radio to those who can not install large aerials, or in some cases are unable to operate any radio equipment at all due to TVI, planning regulations, living in a basement flat or sheltered accommodation. These people can now enjoy their hobby, making world wide contacts thanks to these new repeaters and gateways.
With many fearing that the Internet will mark the death of amateur radio, I think that Internet linking has instead added something useful to the hobby and encouraged much more use of the quiet bands such as 430Mhz / 70Mhz and 29Mhz. Encouragement and support of this mode will help to ensure that these frequencies are retained for Amateur use in the future.