Virtual Ham Radio?

EchoLink is one of those topics that is sure to start an argument whenever someone brings it up at a ham gathering. I started one myself recently, when I proposed that we allow EchoLink contacts for our club’s Worked All Washtenaw award. Some guys maintained that EchoLink contacts shouldn’t be allowed because it allows for computer to computer communication, and in that mode, EchoLink contacts are not “radio” contacts. While I see their point, I felt that they should be allowed because this is just a fun award.

Now, these guys have even more “virtual ham radio” operations to complain about: QSONet and HamSphere. Both of these services claim to simulate the ham radio experience with a computer program.

CQ100QSONet, which bills itself as “virtual ionosphere for amateur radio,” has been around for at least a year. To get on QSONet, you download software that simulates an HF transceiver. (The software only runs on computers running Windows operating systems.)

Once you start the program, you select the mode that you want to operate (including CW!) and the “frequency” on which you want to operate. Then, you log into the QSONet network. The company claims that, “it works with dialup, DSL and cable internet connections. There is no need to configure router ports. The network consists of an array of internet servers which provide streaming voip audio between stations. After installing transceiver software, QsoNet stations are connected to a central server by a single, outbound TCP connection.”

To use QSONet, you must be a licensed radio amateur, even though, as they say on their website, “There is no RF. Everything is done over the internet.” It also costs to use QSONet. After a 90-day free trial period, you must pay a $32 subscription fee.

A new service that I just heard about is HamSphere. Created by Kelly Lindman, the founder of DXTuners, this service seems to be a bit more sophisticated than QSONet.

For example, the HamSphere websites notes that “skip, fading, QRM, QRN, multipath phase effects, etc. are all factors and rules in this simulation. The system follows the ionospheric laws of radio wave deflection.” You can also choose different power levels and antenna types. The user interface isn’t as slick as the QSONet interface (see below), but perhaps that’s a good thing.

HamSphere display

One big difference between HamSphere and QSONet is that anyone can use HamSphere, licensed or not. Another difference is that the software will run on Macs and Linux boxes as well as Windows computers. And, finally, there’s no free trial period, after which you have to pay. Instead, HamSphere is allowing users to run the basic version for free and trying to make money by selling optional features.

Like EchoLink, I think these virtual ham radio services might be appealing to hams who live in antenna-restricted communities or others who for whatever reason are not able to set up their own station. BUT, they are certainly not a substitute for the real thing. I just can’t see how making contacts with QSONet or HamSphere would be as satisfying as making on-the-air contacts.


  1. David N8SRE says:

    At first these struck me as really bizarre, but then it occurred to me that they’re really in the same category as other simulation games, like flight simulators or driving games. I suppose in that context they’re not all that strange.

  2. Simulation! You said it right there.
    MS Flight Simulator is NOT “really flying”.
    Echolink, Hamsphere and Qsonet is NOT “really radio”.
    Guitar hero on my sons Xbox is NOT “really playing guitar”.

    Where’s the PLANE?
    Where’s the GUITAR?
    Where’s the RADIO?

    And the famous “Where’s the BEEF?


  3. David N8SRE says:

    I think Echolink is in a different category than Hamsphere and Qsonet, though. Echolink is just a fancy form of reverse autopatch, something that’s been going on for a long time. It’s a tool for talking to people on repeaters you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.

    On the other hand, Hamsphere and Qsonet, by design, don’t involve any radios at all. To me that makes them more like ham radio inspired games than actual communication tools.

  4. I’m planning on trying out the Hamsphere one, as it looks pretty neat. I’d agree…it’s like a Ham Radio simulator software…just like Flight Simulator is for flying.

    Justin KB3JUV

  5. Hamsphere is a great bit of software . Very realistic propagation and QRM/QRN.

  6. Don Mackay says:

    What happened to RADIO? this is just a large scale VOIP conference call.

  7. I would say you should convince the people that echolink should be allowed for those awards as long as a radio link is involved


  8. Just found hamsphere, it’s great for those of us that have antenna restrictions and are suffering these times of little sunspot activity.

  9. I’ve tried qsone and it worked very well, but my key has been expired :)

  10. Can anyone tell me where you can get these “extra features” for Hamsphere IE antennas, maybe a key for cw? or can someone tell me ow to use these features

  11. Hamsphere sounds great. I’ll be trying this out soon.

  12. HamSphere is a terrific program. No one is claiming that it is actually Ham Radio. I think the program only inspires folks who want to give virtual ham radio a try while studying for their ticket. My hat goes off to Kelly Lindman, the developer.
    If you’d like more info on HamSphere visit the web site, or go to our new un-official HamSphere Forum at:
    73 to all

  13. Hamsphere is terrible. There are a bunch of inexperienced CB’ers hanging around on there. No true ham radio operator would enjoy it. Stick with real rf or Echolink and CQ100.

  14. True Ham Radio Operators? Would you be kind enough to define that for me Mark? A true Ham Radio operator is willing to help other folks interested in the hobby. I spend at least 6 to 8 hours a week doing just that. I help young folks with correct operating procedures and basically how to conduct themselves on the air. I had one fellow who refused to use Hamsphere because he had to share with non licensed operators! How selfish.
    I am so proud of the way some of those “CB’ers” act and show their interest to learn. It is by far the best learning tool I have seen.
    Mark, “True Hams help, period. Try it sometime and get off your high horse.
    One last suggestion. Put a mirror on the floor wherever you are, that way when you are looking down on people, you’ll see how ridiculous you look.
    Jerry Colton – N1TKO
    “A True Ham”

  15. I help people all the time. I’ve been to the hamsphere website and see it is just a bunch of fakes using fake radios doing fake contests exchanging fake QSL cards. I bet it is really hard to get a QSO from the UK or Australia on that crap! It is simply a glorified chatroom for CB’ers who are too lazy to get their license. I see you are on there a lot, N1TKO. You must be sore because of your involvement with it?

    • Rusty Jeremie says:

      some people don’t have the time to learn radio theory and or are not good at math. so be nice. you know it could be worse, we could crash your party directly by becoming pirate radio operators…

  16. OK, guys. Let’s not get into a flame war here. I don’t want to start having to delete comments. Thanks!

  17. I am a true ham radio operator. For a lonb time now I have been trying the real thing without much success. Living here in Las Vegas and only restricted to low power, it is real hard to get a signal out of the valley being surrounded by mountains everywhere. Plus the fact that in apartment living really restricts you for putting up a fairly decent antenna. When I first found QSO 100 and hamsphere, I knew it was simulatred but once you try it, it feels real. Yes, I can easily talk to many hams all over the world with ease and having a contact is so enlightening. If you get rid of the idea that it is just a game, then maybe you can thank the people who started this and offer a means whereby you can communicate as a ham should. Just tuning around you hear from so many people who are older hams like myself and are given another chance to pursue their hobby from when radio was in it’s infancy. You get to keep a log and even have the ability to send a virtual QSL card. It’s like having a $3,000 console transciever facing you which you can still control.

  18. Good for you Mel!! Life is too short and enjoy it whatever way you please. I’d still be on Hamsphere but they are too lax when it comes to registration. I believe, as I said before, it is a good learning tool where Hams can help those who want to become Hams, learn the ropes. But if you are going to run something like that, you must set a good example. Letting guys on using expired licenses or bogus calls is not setting a good example. Let the guy with the expired call use an “HS” call like all the other non hams. So I refuse to use it now.
    I know its not real Ham radio, but heck, you Mel are a perfect example of a Ham who can’t use the real thing for one reason or another and if Hamsphere fills that void…. go for it Brother.
    I can’t count the times I have been on there and heard ol’ timers talking and how happy they are to be back in touch with old Ham friends. Let “them” call it what they want…. if you like it, that’s all that counts.

  19. Thanks Jerry and everyone else who have given ham radio a positive boost. The coolest thing about it, that is virtual ham radio is once you are on the air (so to speak) is that you forget the virtual part and look at it as the real thing. I know it is good to have the real gear set up to an antenna but I am certain everyone here, is very grateful to have such a program as this to enable us to simulate a real contact. I’ve tried it and really enjoyed it. Many of us “old timers” grew up with radio and soon will retire. Hopefully, we can establish a means to share this hobby with younger folks and help them. Since the FCC has changed so much over the years, it enables everyone to join in and not have to worry about all the restrictions about licensing requirements. The incentive is there. You can always rely on ham radio when it comes to emergencies and to be able to patch communications. I know, I did this in the past and it gave me a sense doing good will. I remember back in 1963 when I was in charge of a ham radio station when I was stationed in Arkansas and worked a real emergency that was going on in the Antartic. I was able to patch communication locally which enabled a rescue mission to the area where lives were lost and enable to save the injured. It was a real experience and afterward, I felt very good that I could do something such as this. There were other missions in patching in families with service personnel abroad. Anyway, these are just some of my events.


  20. John Lyons says:

    I have tryed and use both hamsphere and CQ-100 both programs in my option are a great asset
    to our hobby Amateur radio I’m graatfull for both programs.The CQ-100 has the TV and lets
    you send pictures I realy like thet and engoy the contacts without qsb and qrm with almost
    studio quality audio.The hamsphere is more authentic seems to have qsb and some qrm
    almost like having the rig on.Anyhow I have both ham radio station with amtor packtor packet
    sstv and cw don’t need a paper and pin i learned how to hear whole words and relay enjoy it.
    Also use echo link and eqso love it all keep it coming 73’s John

  21. What bothers mi on CW Hamsphere is that you have to write the whole sentence and pres enter when youre done. Isnt anyway to send the characters in real time as you go on typing? or can you plug a key?

  22. I’m glad that there are people who enjoy hamsphere. As for me, I enjoy radio because of the fact that you can communicate without a network, just radio to radio. I don’t even like using repeaters! Yes, radio is mainly a hobby for me, but I love the fact that it can be used when all else fails! Cellphones, internet etc. When the internet go’s down, so does hamsphere. Everything that keeps me interested in radio will also keep me FROM using hamsphere. Again, this is just my opinion, I would never want to stop people from doing things they enjoy.

  23. with these “virtual ham radio sites” one doesn’t have to worry about competing with 1500 watt stations!! everybody is equal!! no “big guns” to command the frequencies,the “Little operator” gets to enjoy his hobby!!

  24. Dan,I’ve never run over 100 watts,now i run a Century 21 CW rig at abt.30 watts,a HW-8 at abt.3 watts max. and a MFJ9420 at approx.10 watts, and i too,enjoy the Hobby!!

  25. I think it’s misleading to refer to it as Ham Radio. More correctly it should be called Citizen’s Band “X”, or CB-X because listening to it, you get a very distorted idea of what actual Ham Radio is like.

  26. Your web page indicates that HAMSPHERE basic is still free to use. Are you sure about that? Their site seems to say that you have to pay now. What am I missing. If there is a basic version for free, then I want to try it. Otherwise I probably won’t bother.

    Thanks – Any insights would be appreciated.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      I just took a look at their website, and I’m not sure what they’re offering now. The pricing page does mention a free trial, but doesn’t say how long that trial lasts or what features you get with the free trial.

  27. Joel Starr says:

    Been out of ham radio for 8 years, moved to rural Idaho and would like to get on Hamsphere. How easy is it, and what extra do I need beside my laptop?

    Please send an easy to understand answer.

    Joel Starr EX-N6IXZ

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