With the growing popularity of ham radio simulations like QSONet and HamSphere, I guess it had to happen sooner or later. According to an announcement just out on the IARU website, from today contacts made using these VOIP systems are now officially amateur radio contacts and can count towards amateur radio awards.
The announcement says: "There is an ever increasing use of computer and internet technology to facilitate the making of contacts between amateur radio operators. For many years use of the DX Cluster has been permitted to locate DX contacts to work and many operators now use internet sites to arrange skeds for needed contacts. We also see the development of new digital modes that can make possible contacts between stations that neither side can even hear. Permitting the use of VOIP modes to make contacts is simply an extension of the use of this facilitating technology, by removing the unreliability caused by the behaviour of the ionosphere. This move will also be welcomed by the many radio amateurs living in antenna-restricted locations who are no longer able to be active on what have traditionally been regarded as 'the airwaves'."
Addressing the criticism that no radio is actually used when making contacts via QSONet or HamSphere, the statement says: "Many amateur operators nowadays use laptop computers which are connected to the internet via a wi-fi router. This does, of course, involve the use of radio. Initially, therefore, only contacts made using a laptop with a wireless connection will be allowed to count under this new ruling. The frequency should be logged as 2.4GHz. This restriction will be reviewed at a later date."
More information on this development will apparently be posted on the site at midday today.