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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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12 Responses to Review of ARRL Log Book of the World

  1. Phil Anderson

    Dale, NK7Z. Thanks so much for providing the review of LOTW; and, I liked the balanced comments that followed. I’ve gotten back into DX after many years and I guess I’ll upload to both LOTW and eQSL. I’ll need to settle on which logging program to use; but the article and comments suggest that most programs support this. Guess I’ll find out !!!!

    73, Phil Anderson, W0XI, Lawrence, KS

  2. Glen VE4GWN

    Good review. The problem for non US amateurs is (for my self) sending ID in addition to my certificate. I have a problem passing out personal information

  3. Mike Tindor / AA8IA

    Bernie – I don’t keep track of how many users are on eQSL vs LOTW. But just because there are 189,000 unique registered users on eQSL doesn’t mean that all 189,000 of those users are actively uploading logs. Granted, the same could be said for LOTW, but given the signup process for LoTW I’d be more inclined to believe that there is a higher percentage of active users on LoTW.

    Buddy – I’m in agreement with all that you’ve said.

    My LoTW confirmation percentage is above 50%, and increasing all the time. I’m quite happy with that. I can use my LoTW confirmations towards any/all awards that I currently am interested in. I am happy knowing that one has to use a little bit of brain matter and make a little more effort to get things working with LoTW.

    Most importantly, LoTW requires matching QSOs before either party sees the other party’s QSO. eQSL [and I think QRZ’s logbook] do not require matching QSOs. In a matter of minutes I could fabricate a number of QSOs, upload them to eQSL, and the other party on eQSL could see the QSOs I uploaded and confirm them instantly even if the QSO never happened. Try that on LoTW. If I fabricate 10 log entries for users known to be actively using LoTW, they will never see my uploaded QSOs and thus would never be given a chance to confirm that QSO that never occurred.

    I upload to LoTW, eQSL and ClubLog. But I only upload to eQSL as a courtesy to those guys and gals I’ve worked who prefer that service. I personally prefer LoTW.

    Mike / AA8IA

    • Darin VE3OIJ

      It would be as trivial to fake QSOs on LotW. Fake up your QSOs and email the ADIF to the other person. Other guy need only search and replace his callsign with yours and you both upload to LotW. It would actually be FASTER than how you describe above, although this method would also work with eQSL.

      There is absolutely nothing whatsoever in LotW preventing users from abusing the system to fake QSOs, and I have no reason to believe that the fake QSO rate in LotW is any lower than it is in eQSL.

  4. Dave Morris

    Contrary to some popular notions, eQSL.cc does not have a lower level of authentication. Both eQSL.cc and LOTW require a login Username/Password combination in order to access our databases. The only reason why LOTW implements an additional security certificate is that in the very beginning, it was envisioned that people would be exchanging logs with each other by email, and not having a central server (LOTW) at all in the middle. See http://www.trustedqsl.org/tqsl-documents/faq.html for the proposal that documents this. When LOTW created a central server, it actually eliminated the need for the additional step of digital signatures on the log, but they left it in place anyway. So now LOTW has a redundant and unnecessary additional step required in its process. LOTW also copied our Authenticity Guaranteed postcard system, but we also have a much faster option wherein you upload a photo or scan of your ham license and we review it in a matter of 24 hours or so to authenticate you. Just wanted to clear up a few of those omissions.

  5. Buddy

    Anytime you mention LoTW, it becomes a LoTW vs eQSL debate. ARRL awards are the only ones I’m interested in so that alone ends the arguement for me. I do upload all contacts to eQSL for those who do like it and need contacts for awards. Setting up LoTW is NOT the laborous process people make it out to be. I mean how difficult is geting a post card in the mail? Setting up your average logging program or digital program is much more involved. I have confirmed many new countries with LoTW and it was far less than the card plus $$$ route. I even confirmed one country a ZL on 40 meters that I had forgotten to QSL a few years ago. The recent RTTY contest had a 70% QSL match on LoTW, at last count. To those who complain about it taking a few days after a contest, well how long does it take to exchange cards… weeeks, months, even years. But complain about a few days.. sheesh. Most complainers are anti-ARRL anyway so nothing will please them.
    Most logging programs today interface with LoTW and it is a snap to upload and download QSOs.

    • Geoff Way, KA1IOR

      Sorry Buddy, I’m an ARRL Life Member. I use LOTW, and the setup instructions used to be awful, which were a factor in frustration for those getting set up with LOTW. Thankfully, ARRL has substantially improved them, but there are still some details and wrinkles.

      Then as recently as JUNE 2012, an Internet Explorer bug was found to cause problems with logging programs that interface to LOTW. AA6YQ noted this recently in his forum for DXLab. One of the strengths working for EQSL is that it makes ABSOLUTELY NO DIFFERENCE what operating system your computer has, you just upload the ADIF log file, and you are DONE. EQSL immediately responds in the result screen from the upload with info on problems or duplicate info, etc. With LOTW, you have to go hunting for your results of the upload elsewhere, but you might also have to WAIT because of the backlog.

      I recently video conferenced with a fellow in New Zeland who was trying to setup LOTW, and for reasons no one can explain, following the current instructions doesn’t give a successful result. The poor fellow threw up his hands and gave up, saying it’s too much of a bother. There are still problems installing on certain versions of Windows. Just because it goes like a snap on YOUR computer doesn’t mean it’ll go like that for everyone else. The problem isn’t with the snail mail system, the postcards get to anyone with a valid snail mail address. As many others who know enough about computers will tell you, a freshly formatted hard drive with Windows 7 installed on it is a COMPLETELY different version of Win 7 than one that’s been UPGRADED from Vista, or XP, or 2000, or OTHER versions…(ME, 98… Yes, LOTW is supposed to work on Win 98!) And then there’s HOME EDITION vs. Professional…

      The truth is that as of July 2012 ***less than 30%*** of ALL the QSO record submissions to LOTW have resulted in a confirmation. If you are getting over 50%, you apparently aren’t working a whole lot of stations or much of the harder to find DX, where just having a computer is a major luxury, let alone internet access. Some of those folks have to ride for miles into a major town with their logs on a thuimb drive and upload them from an internet cafe. Imagine the frustration of going there and uploading to LOTW, but there’s a backlog, so you don’t even know if your log was successfully processed, you have to WAIT until your NEXT trip to town, only to find out there was a problem with it… Who would be frustrated with that?

      The electronic QSL idea is a great advance in Ham Radio. Unfortunately, LOTW has shot itself in the foot by requiring a certain level of end-user sophistication and savvy to make it work. Kudos to the logging programs that seek to ease that part of things, but contesters SHOULDN’T be using real-time LOTW, as it violates the Operator’s pledge to use ONLY the airwaves to make the contact, and not use another mode like LOTW or EQSL to verify it as a way of error-checking in realtime. If you are uploading your log info before the submission deadline, you are not in keeping with the spirit of the rules for contests.

      Maybe that was too subtle…YOU ARE BREAKING THE CONTEST RULES IF YOU ARE DOING THAT to error-check your log before you submit it.

      One major difference yet to be clearly stated here is that EQSL doesn’t require the periodic maintenance that LOTW does; you only need to do something again with EQSL IF/when your callsign changes, or are activating a Special Event callsign.

  6. Bernie

    The review of LOTW was informative and balanced. LOTW is missing electronic QSL cards and multi-language support..

    You did forget to mention that eQSL now has over 189,000 unique registered users — four times as many as LOTW.

    73, VE3FWF, Ottawa, Candaa

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