First Blog Update in Over Two Years

Hard to believe it has been over two years since I last posted to the blog. Been very busy. Work was so stressful I decided to retire about a year and a half early. When the job starts impacting your health, it is time to go. Thought I would have more time for operating but I've spent the last year catching up on delayed home projects….then of course there is the grandchildren. Those kids take up a lot of time.

So what's new in ham radio? Well still active on DMR, DStar and Fusion. Actually starting to like Fusion. Activity seems to have trailed off on DMR. Heck for that matter, repeater usage seems to have declined. People do not like to talk. All I can think of is that people have forgotten how to carry on a conversation. All they know if how to text.

I have one friend who says, "no one is on the repeaters." I ask him, do you put out calls? "No" is his response. Well if everyone is doing what you are doing, just listening, then there will not be any activity. Someone has to start the conversation.

As for DMR, changed out all the "old" type hotspots and moved to three Pi-Star based hotspots. One I bought and two I built. One is on DStar, one on DMR and one on Fusion. In my opinion, these little Pi-Stars are great. You don't need one for each mode, that's just how I have them. One Pi-Star can be easily switched between DMR, DStar, Fusion, P25 and NXDN. The Pi-Star will also support going from one mode to another such as from DMR to NXDN. These things are great, not that expensive and highly recommended. You can even buy all the parts on Amazon and cases for them are also available on eBay.

For DMR radios, I have moved away from Connect Systems. Too many firmware fixes that do not fix the issues and do not work. I sold all my Connect Systems radios except for the CS750. I tried selling it on Facebook and eBay for $35 and no one wanted it. I then sold it to a local guy for trial and he did not like it and gave it back. Actually works somewhat OK now with the last update to the PC software that fixed a major issue. Took SIX months to get that issue solved. I complained about the issues so much on their FB page that the moderator banned me from the group. Said I was making threatening comments which was all BS. He even claimed that my post to sell the CS750 was a bogus post. Nope it was not. Even had the radio on eBay. No bids at $35 starting bid. So I guess I am just stuck with it, though I do not use it much. Mostly use it now to listen to what's left on FM fire/police and FM GMRS. Now that it somewhat works, is in great condition, if you want to buy it send $65 via Paypal. Contact me via the website if interested.

If you still want to buy a new Connect Systems radio, I suggest you buy it direct from Connect Systems. Some of the dealers for Connect Systems sell them at a premium. Their "value add" is programming the radio. Learn to program it yourself or get a code plug from someone else and just load it. Buy direct and save money. Jerry is nice guy and does provide good service. However he has to rely on Co-Value (the Communist Chinese manufacturer of his radios) to fix the firmware and PC software. Therein lies the problem.

In my opinion there are much better radios for DMR then Connect Systems that are now available. I especially like the Anytone radios. Yup, made in Communist China but they work very nicely and are at very competitive prices and have far less serious issues with the firmware. There are many quality vendors offering Anytone radios. BTW, the programming software is also so much easier to use and you do not need to have Excel in order to upload contacts to the radios, another drawback of Connect Systems.

As for Fusion, Yaesu has made their radios very affordable. Seriously, you can get a basic FM/C4FM Fusion radio for well under $175 for single band, and around $200 for dual band.

The thing that I believe stalled DStar adoption is that Icom kept the price of DStar radios too high for too long. Heck, they are still to highly priced in my opinion. I like DStar, but for hams wanting to try digital voice modes on VHF and above, DMR and Fusion are much more affordable.

This Summer I hit another milestone with VUCC getting over 175 grid squares. So I applied to the ARRL for the endorsement, but still waiting on my sticker. Some might not think that is a lot of grid squares, but my 6 Meter antenna is a dipole in the garage attic. Not too shabby I think. Last year actually made a contact with the Canary Islands with that set-up and I have it confirmed. Now that 6 Meters has pretty much shut down for the Summer, I have moved back to HF.

Started playing around with JS8 chat. Looks rather interesting. Might help get some young people interested as they love chat on their phones and tablets.

That's it for now. I will have to get more into updating the blog a bit more frequently. In the meantime, get on the radio and start talking.
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Finally VUCC on 6 Meters

I finally was able to get the last few grid squares the other day to obtain a VUCC Award on 6 Meters. 

One thing about using the ARRL LoTW is that they turn the award around very fast. I applied yesterday and today it shows the award issued. The cost for applying the QSL credits was under $15. Now if I had to pay the postage to get paper QSLs, it would have been much more expensive. Really like LoTW.

Now to continue working more grid squares during the Summer E season and get the next endorsement.
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VUCC - Getting Real Close

This past December was really good for E propagation. Moved from JT-65 to FT-8 which is much better for making contacts over JT-65 on the VHF/UHF bands. JT-65 was too slow as the band can change so quickly at the higher frequencies. In any case, as a result, I only need three more grid squares for VUCC. I can probably do it on ground wave, so if you are in reasonable proximity to Cincinnati, but outside of EM79, send me an email if you can arrange a schedule to try making a contact on 6 Meters with FT-8.
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DMR Update

Recently I received a Disqus reply to one of the blog posts. Because it was anonymous, I did not approve for it to be published here. If you cannot post your name or call, then it must not have been a post they thought was worth sharing.

The question was what did I now think of DMR. So I will answer that question.

DMR is like FM on steroids. The audio is very nice. You can talk to other via networked repeaters like EchoLink. Radios are certainly cheap just like FM. Other than that, I cannot really say too much more.

Sure there are a lot of repeaters., Pretty much on par with DStar. Fusion is still behind and heck, you still don't find many people on Fusion. I guess some are just content to stay on FM.

However, DMR is now very mature in the amateur market. I still do not see radios capable to interfacing to a computer beyond using the computer to program them. There are still no software packages like D-Rats for sending text or data over a DMR radio. MARC created a sandbox for people to experiment, but after two years has anything come of it? Not that I have seen or could find. If you know of something, please let me know.

Yes, DMR is fun to talk on. So is DStar and Fusion. But again, for all around versatility, DStar is still at the top of the heap in the amateur ranks.

I just wish the radios were more affordable. This is where I see Icom and now Kenwood making a mistake. The cheap Chinese radios are allowing DMR to grown in amateur radio, while the high price of DStar has stalled the growth on that mode. Fusion, well the radios are affordable, but they are so late to the digital game that it is just as stagnant as DStar, but does not have the footprint that DStar and DMR now enjoy.

So there it is folks. My current opinion.
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Why DMR is succeeding

A Happy Valentine's Day to everyone!

As many of you know, I am a big fan of DStar. Sure it has some limitations, but for versatility, it is the best for ham radio in my opinion, because it was designed for ham radio. Fusion can make that same claim, but I do not see the versatility there.

DMR is a commercial standard adapted to amateur radio. It seems to be the least flexible for amateur radio, but seems to be growing the fastest at this point. The reason why is what I will try to answer.

DStar was the first digital mode that received wide acceptance in the ham community. It has a slow start, but after a few years, really began to take off. It had P25 as some competition, but P25 never really caught on. Radios were expensive and really appealed to a group in ham radio that felt they needed to have interoperability with police, fire, EMA and other government agencies. I know a lot of emergency agency people and they wanted nothing to do with interoperability with amateur radio. They are the professionals and we are amateurs and the radio kingdom was not going to be intermixed.

DStar caught on with many of the amateurs who like to be on the leading edge and willing to pay for the equipment to be on the leading edge. Because of DStar's design, there were also hams on jumped on the app development bandwagon and created applications for chat and emergency communications like D*Chat and D-RATS. DStar also integrated into APRS very well with gateway software referred to as DPRS.

Because Icom continued to be the only provider of DStar equipment (only recently did Kenwood create a DStar radio) the prices stayed very high….too high for too long and this is where I believe Icom made a critical marketing error.

People began to deploy DMR repeaters. Mostly used Motorola repeaters taken out of commercial operation. They were pretty reasonable and there were used DMR radios coming to market as commercial owners upgraded their radios to newer DMR technology. But then the Chinese entered the market with digital handhelds for under $200. The leading edge crowd started to buy into DMR. Then when the Chinese started shipping handhelds like the MD-380 for a little over $100, many of the trailing edge hams and more budget minded hams (aka cheap) started entering into DMR.

DMR repeaters really started to grow. New networks developed. Hotspots were developed for DMR (and also Fusion) and more people started to flock to DMR.

When hams were looking to try digital, they had a choice of DStar at over $400 a radio, or DMR for a little over $100. Heck, now you can buy an MD-380 for under a $100.

Icom did reduce the price of their radios around $300, but it was too late, DMR had taken the momentum away from DStar.

While all this was going on, about a little over a year ago, Yaesu entered with Fusion. Yaesu offered clubs Fusion repeaters for $500. The issue is that Fusion repeaters can do FM or Digital and many clubs bought them as cheap replacements for FM repeaters. Our club has three with only only just recently being enabled for digital in addition to FM. Now Yaesu did price their radios a bit better than Icom. I think their cheapest mobile Fusion radio is around $139 now and I bought mine when it first came out for around $169 at Dayton in 2016.

Yaesu was too late to the table. Fusion use is rather limited. Most people are still venturing into DMR and to a lesser degree, DStar now.

Here is what is sad. I have said this before, manufacturers should have backed ONE standard.

Second, manufacturers have the capability to make a radio that does multiple digital modes. Why not do it people?

Yaesu, you can hang onto Fusion and Icom can hang onto DStar, but the majority of hams going into digital today are going with DMR because it is affordable. Icom, you kept the DStar radio prices too high for too long. Yaesu, you just took too long to enter the digital marketplace. You would have been better served by backing DStar.

Now the best thing for all the manufacturers to do is to come out with a DStar/DMR/Fusion capable radio at an affordable price. If not, DStar and Fusion may become the next Betamax (old folks will understand that reference).

So in summary, the reason DMR is succeeding right now is the price of the radios. It will continue to grow for that very reason.
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