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Review of ARRL Log Book of the World

Posted by on January 17, 2012

ARRL LOTW Logo

This is a review of ARRL Log book Of The World, or LOTW, also see my review of eQSL QSL Service.  The ARRL is currently sponsoring a program for exchanging QSL information in a secure way for use in obtaining various awards from the ARRL.  This program is called “Logbook of the World”.  The ARRL was late to the blocks in implementation, eQSL.cc was first, however the ARRL decided to implement a tighter security model than eQSL initially, hence eQSL ended up being on line earlier than LOTW.  Both services have a level of authentication which is similar now, however eQSL has a lower level of authentication because of the lack of digitally signed uploads.  The individual ham operator decides which level he or she wants to use.  Using the lower level of authentication with eQSL disqualifies you from some awards.  Both services are free, although if you want awards, you need to pay eQSL, even if you want the CQ awards, you are into eQSL for at least $5.00 as of 10/10/15

This is a review of LOTW, so lets stop talking about eQSL, for now…  LOTW only allows one level of authentication, the postcard process to prove who you are, and where you live.  The ARRL sends you a postcard at your address of record, and you respond to this card.  This has caused the ARRL no end of bad PR over the years, and still is.  You exchange a postcard with ARRL, and they use this process to verify you are who you say you are, and that you are a licensed station.  While this process works well for US hams, it seems to be a problem for non-US hams.  I have no idea why, perhaps someone will add to this with comments…

Given that the ARRL is the key holder for the major US awards, it stands to reason that they will accept their own users, as opposed to others.  This gives the ARRL a distinct advantage in the “Service of Choice” decision.  If you want an ARRL award, your three choices are; send in the cards, have them verified by a “Card Checker”, or join LOTW.  From here on lets assume you have been authenticated by the ARRL for use of the LOTW program.
First lets look at the features.

Ease of Setup:

Initially I was less than pleased with all the fuss needed to verify that I was really who I said I was.  TSQL is used to digitally sign your log submissions to the ARRL LOTW, and is really two programs, TSQL Certificates, and TSQL itself.  TSQL Certificates is for requesting and managing your digital certificates.  TSQL itself creates a digitally signed upload file of your contacts for submission to the ARRL using the certificates generated from TSQL Certificates.  This all sounds like a very complicated process, and it is, however the process is completely invisible to the operator in normal use assuming the programmer of your logging software knows what he or she are doing.    Anyway, back to the setup discussion…  If you want a complete detailed, explanation of how it works visit the PDF file the ARRL has prepared for you.  The ARRL explains it much better than I would here…  Of late, (2014), the TQSL program has been rewritten to make it simpler to use…  These changes have made TQSL a lot better than it was initially…  One thing that would be really nice in TQSL, is when there is a duplicate contact, if TQSL would list the dups by call sign in a dialog box.  Currently it just asks you if you want to resend, and does not point you at a call sign to remove.

Ease of Use:

Using LOTW is simple.  Most users are interfacing with LOTW using some sort of logging software.  For me I use N3FJP’s AC Log, (ACLog is reviewed here)..  All I do is select the LOTW option, select upload unsent contacts, wait a few moments, then hit “DONE”.  After that if I want to see who has matched me, (same as a QSL card), I hit the “DOWNLOAD” button, and in a few moments I have an ARRL approved certification that I worked a station, or stations.  All decent software provides LoTW support, and I simply would not use a logging program that does not support LoTW.

The ARRL also provides a web interface for LOTW.  After logging in, you get a rather utilitarian, but full featured interface.  Missing is all of the fluff that has characterized web pages.  I like the interface, it is clean and makes sense, and most of all it lets me manage my QSO lists, sort them, make lists of what I need, and don’t need, etc.

Once logged into the ARRL LoTW interface, you are presented with a set of buttons on the left side, all the normal functions are in place you would expect for a web site, plus QSO management functions.  The meat of the site is the “Your QSO’s” tab.  The user is presented with a front end to search for logged contacts, in order to see if a station has been worked and if you have gotten a confirmation back yet.  You can download your log in .adi format.  This enables you to re-import the log into a different logging program should you want to, it also provides a backup in the event your logging program ever eats your log.  The interface provides links to see your DXCC count, your WAS counts, etc…  All in all a very useful set of tools for viewing your log.  If only more awards were supported, like the CQ awards!  So far, of the CQ awards, only the WPX award is supported.

Renewal of Certificates:

The renewal process is pretty much the same as the initial setup, minus all of the postcard verification, unless you allow your Certificate to expire– not a good idea, as you will need to do the post card thing again.  All in all the renewal process is pretty simple.

Now lets look at the pros and cons:

Cons:

  • The initial validation process takes a few weeks.
  • Restricted awards, needs more…
  • You don’t get a paper card.
  • Sometimes it is down, but not often– face it, we are not launching a space shuttle here.

Pros:

  • No more two year waits for QSL cards
  • Saves on postage.
  • The process is now computerized.
  • I get to work with my logs electronically.
  • The ARRL has maintained the “sanctity” of the awards they support.
  • The turn time is much faster than paper QSL cards.  I have had cards returned in minutes.
  • It is a lot simpler to to get awards via this process.
  • It’s pretty cool to work a station, and have a QSL in hand 2 minutes later.
  • Simpler overall process than doing paper QSL cards.

Conclusion:

All in all I really like LOTW.  The ARRL is worried about degrading the quality of their awards, (hence all of the postcard verification’s, and the use of tQSL), and in today’s climate of degrading standards, it is good to see an organization take a solid stand, (even though it causes the ARRL some bad PR from time to time),  and not reduce the quality standards of their awards.  Of late there has been a lot of complaints on the Yahoo groups regarding LOTW taking a few days to process the thousands of entries after a major contest.  It is still a lot faster than the old postal days ever thought about being.  All in all the LOTW is force for good in the Amateur Radio community.  I would be very sad to see it end for any reason.

Addendum (07/02/12):
It appears that the ARRL now has the LOTW CQ WPX Awards section working.


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