QSLing for the 21st century: eQSLs
QSL cards are special postcards sent between amateur radio operators to confirm a contact. When the contact is with someone in a rare country, such cards are essential to claim operating awards. But many hams claim that a QSL is the final courtesy after a contact, while others just find QSLing a chore. Since most radio amateurs now have access to the Internet, perhaps an electronic QSL could replace the postcards of yore?
Back in 2002, I signed up as a registered user with eQSL.cc. Like many radio amateurs, I'd heard about this new method of QSLing but was sceptical about it. I like to display interesting cards on the noticeboard on the wall, and I didn't think that flimsy, computer-printed cards would be a satisfactory substitute for the real thing.
One day, out of curiosity, I visited the eQSL site, typed in my call, and was surprised to find that there were many cards there waiting for me. Now, I'm a fan. Here's why I believe that electronic QSLing is a great idea.
I thought that computer-printed QSLs would be a poor substitute for printed cards. It's true that the best printed cards look better, but so many real QSL cards are plain, standard designs, often printed in one colour (for reasons of cost.) Electronic QSLing allows everyone to have the luxury of a full-colour design, at next to no cost (I donated $10 to be allowed to make my own design, shown below.)
Given a decent colour printer (not expensive relative to the cost of ham gear) and good quality paper, the printed results don't look bad. If you save the QSL images to hard disk you can archive them to CD-ROM for later reprinting if the original fades or becomes damaged.
But why bother with printed cards? I have a drawer full of them that I never look at. With the eQSL cards you can make slide shows of them, desktop wallpaper from them - whatever you want.
I was concerned that electronic QSLs would be easy to forge. On the face of it, they are, but only if you accept that a $10 Rolex bought from a market trader is the real thing. Anyone can use a computer to forge themselves a card from me, but it won't count for any awards because the contact won't be in the log that eQSL keeps in its database. To further authenticate my contacts, I've submitted a scan of my license documents so as to get "authentication guaranteed" status. This makes eQSL contacts verifiable, which isn't the case for the paper version. I'd encourage all hams who have already registered with eQSL to do the same.
Imagine making that DX contact, then a few minutes later receiving an email to say that a QSL confirming the contact is waiting for you at eQSL! That's possible with this new system, especially if you have a permanent Internet connection. Many logging programs, including MixW by UT2UZ and KComm, now support the capability to automatically submit the QSL to eQSL when you work them. Isn't that better than waiting months for a card through the bureau?
Printed cards are expensive, especially full colour ones, and whenever I've moved house I've always ended up wasting hundreds that were printed with my old address. Postage is expensive, too. National radio societies are struggling with the costs of maintaining their bureaux, and many are now demanding fees to handle cards from non-members, making it less and less likely that your cards will get there at all. We can help our national societies spend their scarce funds on more worthwhile things by relieving them of the chore of running QSL bureaux, and we can save ourselves the cost of international postage and IRCs.
To encourage use of the system, eQSL has developed a programme of awards based on contacts confirmed using eQSLs. Since everything works around eQSL's log database, there's no hassle trying to get that final elusive DX card, and no expense and worry posting your precious QSLs off to some adjudicator. However, currently only a fraction of my contacts have sent eQSLs, and less than half of those have the "authentication guaranteed" status needed to qualify for an award. To really reap the benefits, every active ham needs to be on this system. I'd like to urge all amateurs to register with eQSL, and all those who have, but haven't submitted evidence of their licence status, to do so and get authenticated. Then join in the fun and watch those QSLs flood in!
The saying that "The final courtesy of a contact is a QSL" may have been true in the days when a radio contact really was an event worth commemorating. These days the cost of printing and posting QSL cards just isn't justified for every contact, and national radio societies waste volunteer time and money on behalf of those who insist on QSLing every contact through the bureau. The Internet has become such an integral tool for most radio enthusiasts that there is no logical reason not to use it to confirm contacts as well. I can live without awards, but the awards organizations that won't accept eQSLs need to wake up and join the 21st century. If I was lucky enough to live in a DX location, I would not wish to have the expense of printing and mailing QSLs to all those who needed them when I already have a perfectly good Internet connection.
Electronic QSLs are cheaper, faster, easier, more efficient and more readily verified as genuine. I retain a small stock of cards for anyone who chooses to QSL direct, but apart from that I now QSL exclusively through eQSL.cc and no longer send or reply to cards sent via the bureau.