of The World— 75 Million QSOs Can’t Be Wrong! LoTW is well on its way to being adopted by the worldwide community of DXers. Are your QSLs uploaded yet? H. Ward Silver, NØAX
the 1990s drew to a close, it was becoming apparent that the growing popularity of DXing and the resulting paper QSLs were straining the resources of participants in DX award programs, such as DXCC. More than ever, DXers were chasing “band-mode” counters, requiring more and more QSLs to be collected, submitted, and checked at ever-increasing personnel costs and postal rates. About this time, Internet security technology began to mature and so the idea of a fully secure, on-line QSLing system was proposed to the ARRL Board of Directors in 2000.1 The project was approved, a specification was written2 and after two years of development and extensive beta testing by numerous volunteers directed by project leader Jon Bloom, KE3Z, at ARRL, LoTW went live in September 2003.
Statistics and Status Log files, some with tens of thousands
Notes appear on page 53.
of QSOs (called records by LoTW), immediately began to roll into the LoTW server. In the first month alone, 14 million QSOs were added to the database! By the end of 2004, the log had grown to 50 million QSOs. As of July 2005, the system holds 75 million QSOs with over 15,000 different call signs representing over 300 different DXCC entities. Over 10,000 individual users are participating in LoTW. This is estimated to be more than 50% of active, awards-chasing DXers—pretty good for such a young program. Every day, an average of 78,000 QSOs are added. Figure 1 shows LoTW’s growth. More important than the raw number of QSOs is the number of confirmed QSOs or QSL records. This fraction varies widely— a DXpedition’s log obviously generates a lot of confirmations. Most users see initial confirmation rates of 5-10%, growing over time. This percentage is continually increasing as more logs are submitted, especially from outside the United States. About 5% of all LoTW QSOs are currently confirmed within the system. Individual DXCC awards and even 5BDXCC have been
Reprinted with permission © ARRL
awarded based solely on LoTW credits! Don’t confuse the LoTW confirmed rate of 5% with the higher return rate for a mailed card. Most of us don’t QSL every QSO in our logs, including contest and casual QSOs. If we did, the return rate would probably be comparable to the LoTW confirmation rate. Paper cards average about a 50% return rate for DX and 25% or lower for domestic contacts. While DXCC is the only award program currently supported, plans are in the works to expand coverage. The first will be the ARRL Worked All States (WAS) award. WAS will be followed by non-ARRL awards, such as CQ DX, including the new CQ DX Field program, and the popular Islands On the Air (IOTA) award from RSGB. The addition of WAS will enhance LoTW participation by non-US hams. The timeline for implementing these new interfaces is mainly a question of resources available to do the work.
Resources For all the technology involved, the hardest part about LoTW is just making the decision to join in. You needn’t be a computer guru to take advantage of the system and its many benefits. What you need is an Internet connection and Web browser, logging software that can create files in the ADIF or Cabrillo format, and the ability to follow instructions. (It’s the last one that gives me trouble.) The remaining piece of the puzzle is free software called TQSL that you can download from the ARRL Web site (see the section on Security). Before you start, it’s important to make sure that everything on your system is up to date. Since LoTW uses the address on file for your FCC license, be sure your license information is correct in the online call-sign database at www.arrl.org. This is also the time to upgrade to the latest version of your logging software—be sure you have its most up-to-date LoTW file creation abilities. If you don’t yet computer log, check with the vendor before you do buy a logging program to be sure that LoTW is fully supported. The process of signing up for LoTW and transferring your file of QSOs to the system is covered in the sidebar. If you follow these instructions carefully, you can minimize the chance of problems. Don’t assume, guess, or jump ahead—this is sure to cause trouble.! When in doubt, “don’t do it—get help!” In the event that you become confused or are unable to make the process work as expected, there is a list of nearly 70 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) with answers on the ARRL’s LoTW Web site at https://p1k.arrl.org/lotw/faq. Chances
decode the encrypted hash. LoTW also generates the same one-way hash from the log and compares it to the decrypted hash. If they match, your log is accepted. (This short description of the process is oversimplified. Detailed information and reference material is available on the Trusted QSL Web site.) A separate certificate is required for each call sign for which you wish to submit QSO data. For example, if I manage the QSL requests for KL7K/HC1, I’ll need one certificate to upload Dave’s log and another for my personal log. The complete process is described on the LoTW
Logbook of The World 16000
QSOs DXers Calls
DXers & Call Signs
Growth in past 12 Months 80
Figure 1—The growth of LoTW shows widening acceptance of the program around the world.
The number one question most DXers have regarding LoTW is “Why go to all this trouble?” The answer is the same as for why the ARRL checks paper QSLs—to maintain the integrity of one of amateur radio’s flagship awards. Just because an electronic system streamlines the process is no excuse to relax the high standards for which the DXCC program is known. Enter Public-Key Infrastructure Security or PKI. Secure systems have three ways to verify information you submit; something you have, something you are (such as your fingerprints), or something you know. DXCC has relied on paper QSLs to supply the first—a physical record of the QSO by the other station. In an all-electronic environment however, the third method must be used. The PKI system (described in more detail in the initial LoTW article1) uses digital signatures instead of passwords because they “sign” the submitted information (your log) in a way that guarantees the source of the data (you) and makes it virtually impossible to alter without detection. Trusted QSL (www.trustedqsl.org) is a software system developed to support the needs of the amateur radio community in exchanging electronic QSLs. Trusted QSL provides two programs. The first, TQSLCert is used to generate certificate requests that are sent to the ARRL who, in turn, provide your digital certificate. The digital certificate is a lot like a business card containing your identification but with something new, a public key. Your public key is a number generated by TQSLCert that basically says, “If you can decode the digital signature by using this number, it’s from me.” Using your public key to decode the message will only work if it was encoded with the secret private key TQSLCert generated and kept on your computer. That’s why we must be sure where the public key came from. Certificate requests are small files (containing your public key) with the filename extension TQ5 that are emailed to email@example.com. In response, the ARRL mails a post card to the address for your call sign in the FCC database. (Non-US requesters must mail identification information to the ARRL.) You use the password on the post card to confirm that you have received the post card, authenticating your certificate request. The digital certificate is a file with
Securing Your QSOs
the extension TQ6, emailed to you after you confirm your request. The TQ6 file is used in combination with your associated private key. By itself, the TQ6 file cannot be used to determine your private key, nor does it include log data. The second Trusted QSL program, TQSL, creates a digital signature in two steps as shown in Figure 2. First, a mathematical operation is performed on your log, generating a numeric output called a one-way hash. Your private key is then used to encrypt the hash. Both the encrypted hash and your non-encrypted log are emailed to LoTW, which then uses your public key to
Millions of QSOs Stored
are, your question is answered somewhere on that page. Use the “Find” command in your browser and a “keyword” to help locate the answer to your question. If you do have a new question, you can e-mail your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Encrypt Your Log
Your Private Key
Create One-Way Hash
01010101 01010101 01010001 01010111
Send to ARRL
Create Hash Compare 01010101 01010101 01010001 01010111
Your Public Key QS0509-Slvr02
Figure 2—LoTW uses a standard encryption system called Public Key Infrastructure based on hashes (created from your log) and two keys, one public and one private.
Reprinted with permission © ARRL
“Getting Started” Web page: https://p1k. arrl.org/lotw/getstart. Once again, why so much trouble? With a computer, it’s not really that much trouble. This is standard procedure for an electronic system. Comparisons to other secure systems, such as banks and credit card shopping are made on the LoTW FAQ page mentioned earlier. While somewhat simpler to work with, suffice it to say that security and identity breaches in those systems raise serious questions about their security technologies. PKI is a security system that is well known and is well worth the effort.
Step 1: Download and Install Software
Download these programs:
TQSL TQSL Cert Download
Step 2: Run TQSLCert TQSLCert creates a certification request file
Cost Comparisons One of the reasons justifying the creation of LoTW is the time and expense of paper QSLing. How does LoTW stack up? Realistically, LoTW is not going to completely supplant paper cards because it’s fun and interesting to collect and display them. You’ll probably still want a single card from DXpeditions and stations. Where the savings start to accrue is when you begin chasing 5BDXCC or the band/modes as described earlier. Let’s assume you have your DXCC already, having collected the necessary cards from the bureau or by QSLing direct. If you then go after 5BDXCC, you’ll need another 400 QSLs. Let’s say that 200 of those will be from new entities from which you’d like a paper QSL and 200 from entities already represented in your original DXCC and so represent “duplicate” QSLs. Cost of 200 direct paper QSLs: 15 cents for two envelopes and QSL 80 cents outbound postage $2 for return postage as IRCs or “green stamps” Total: $2.95 per QSL or $590 for 200 QSLs. Since 200 LoTW credits at 20 cents each cost a total of only $40, that’s a whopping saving over direct mail! (This assumes all DX stations are on LoTW or that they return QSL 100%.) Unlike paper QSLs, however, an unacknowledged LoTW QSO costs nothing. Bureau and QSL service costs are about the same as LoTW per card, but it takes quite a few months to get a return card and duplicate QSL requests would surely be required in many cases. As you are aware, postage expenses are increasing every year, particularly for overseas mail. Even bureau costs are rising. In contrast, because LoTW minimizes the
TQ5 File: 0101010101 0101010101 0001010101
Step 3: Email TQ5 file to LoTW This is a request for certification
.tq5 0101010101 From: 0101010101 0001010101 1110010101
To: email@example.com Postcard
Step 4: Enter password from postcard One Day
Mr. Joe Ham Re: Your Password
******* TQ6 File: 0101010 1010101 0101010
Step 5: Double-click TQ6 Icon
You are now certified !
This is the certificate file
Backup P12 File: 0101010101 0101010101 0001010101
You're Certified! Submitting Your Log
Step 6: Run TQSL to create log file TQSL creates a signed TQ8 log file
Your ADIF or Cabrillo Log Programs TQSL
TQSL "signs" your log
Step 7 : Email TQ8 file to LoTW LoTW report available on Web site
A few minutes
.tq8 0101010101 From: 0101010101 0001010101 1110010101
Figure 3—This is the step-by-step process by which you receive a digital certificate and add your log to LoTW.
A Few Days
Reprinted with permission © ARRL
need to handle cards and paperwork, LoTW fees have not changed in its first two years. It is likely that, over time, LoTW fees will grow much slower than postal rates.
The Next Steps Programs like LoTW are often hard to implement and have significant growing pains. In contrast, LoTW has come on-line quickly and with a minimum of bugs and design flaws. You can attribute this to a quality design team, excellent work on the part of test users, and rapid response to reported problems. I wish that all the software projects I’ve been part of had gone this smoothly! Nevertheless, no system is perfect. What changes will we see in LoTW in the coming years? Look for the basic structure of LoTW to stay the same. So far, the security system is working well. Where improvement is needed is in refinement of the instructions and FAQ pages so that more users have fewer problems. The extensive FAQ Web pages and start-up instructions need editing and streamlining. DX users have so far been reluctant to send all of the personal information necessary to obtain their certificates so the ARRL is evaluating local or regional alternatives that could meet the security requirements. Will LoTW eventually generate printed QSLs, bringing the program back full circle? That option is being evaluated and there are both pros and cons. Paper cards have great meaning when originated by the DX station or operators—there’s nothing like opening that self-addressed, stamped envelope when it finally returns bearing unusual stamps and cancellations. Would a printed card generated in Newington, Connecticut have the same attraction? DXpeditions rely on contributions sent with QSLs to cover operating expenses. There has been some discussion of making contribution mechanisms available on the LoTW Web site. Such an enhancement has the benefit of avoiding the postal pilferage common in many countries, so there are definitely reasons to consider such a program. Stay tuned for further details. LoTW has helped makemade on-line, real-time DXCC listings a reality—give them a try at www.arrl.org/awards/dxcc/ #listings. Advanced reports and interaction with LoTW are possible with the data in electronic formats. Imagine being able to access an interface that answers queries such as “How many QSOs were made on 40 meters during first two days of the 3YØPI expedition?” or “Give me the bandby-band breakdown of the recent operation of [call sign of the DX station you’re chasing here].” Logbook of The World, indeed!
Seven Steps to LoTW The following is a simplified LoTW Startup guide for US amateurs, showing each step as illustrated in Figure 3, the response to expect and how long that response should take. Since this process is what “should” happen, for your first time using LoTW, take notes of what you did, when you did it, file names and sizes, and addresses. The information will come in handy in the unlikely event that you get stuck. Before you start—Update your logging software and be sure your FCC database address is correct. Create a directory on your hard drive for temporarily storing LoTW files. Step 1—Download and install the latest TQSL software from the LoTW Web site (the current version is tqsl-111.exe). Two programs will appear on your desktop: TQSL and TQSLCert. Step 2—Run TQSLCert to create a new certificate request—the TQ5 request file. Step 3—E-mail the TQ5 file to firstname.lastname@example.org. You should receive a post card from the ARRL in a few days. If not, don’t create a new certificate request; contact LoTW at email@example.com. Step 4—The postcard contains an eight-character password. Log on to the LoTW Web site and enter that password. After you have entered the password, you should receive a TQ6 certificate file via e-mail within one working day. The email also contains your User Page username and password. Step 5—Open or “run” this certificate by double-clicking on the TQ6 attachment icon. This completes your certification. You should now save this information by generating a private key/certificate file with the name <yourcallsign>.P12. After your certification is complete, you should delete all TQ5 and TQ6 files from your system. You do not need these files. You should SAVE the P12 file by right-clicking the gold seal icon to the left of your call sign in TQSLCert and then selecting “Save As.” Browse to a suitable backup drive and click “Save”. This file, <yourcallsign>.P12, is all you need to recover from a crash or move to a different machine—refer to the LoTW FAQ on the LoTW Web site. Step 6—To submit your log to LoTW, run TQSL, open the File menu and select “Sign Existing ADIF or Cabrillo File.” Follow the instructions to create a digitally signed TQ8 log file. Step 7—E-mail the TQ8 file to firstname.lastname@example.org. You will receive two e-mail responses from the LoTW server within a few minutes; a receipt and a message containing a report similar to those shown on the ARRL’s LoTW FAQ Web site. To see your LoTW status at any time, log on to the LoTW User’s Web page (https://p1k.arrl.org/lotwuser/default), enter the username and password that came in the e-mail with your TQ6 file, and when the next page appears, your total and confirmed QSOs will appear in the upper righthand corner of the page. If at any point, you become confused, review your notes and compare them to the process shown on the Web site. Confirm that you have or have not received the TQ5 or TQ6 files. If retracing your steps leaves you hanging, contact lotw-help@ arrl.org before running through any part of the process again. Do not “delete everything and begin again”—multiple attempts can cause more difficult problems than one failed attempt.
Summary There is room for both paper and electronic QSLs in DXing. It has been said that electronic QSLing will sound the death knell for paper cards. I don’t believe that will come to pass. Hams enjoy having and displaying paper cards. They like having a card handled by the other station somewhere far away. An electronic system that removes a significant amount of cost and inefficiency from the QSLing process will be a boon, however, to DXers starting their Reprinted with permission © ARRL
climb to the Honor Roll. Speaking as one who has contributed his personal log to the database, it’s definitely worth the small amount of effort needed. I hope I’ll see one of your contacts QSLed in my on-line log real soon! Notes 1 Wayne Mills, N7NG, “Introducing Logbook of The World,” QST, Oct 2003, p 46. 2 Logbook of The World Design Specification, version 4.1, trustedqsl.sourceforge.net/ lotwspec.pdf.