DStar, DMR and Fusion Observations & Comments

I've not had the chance to play with Fusion for two weeks. I've had DMR for just about a year now and DStar for a number of years. So here are my thoughts thus far.

First, DMR is now growing fast and catching up to DStar in terms of number of users and repeaters. What has contributed to the growth are a number of very low cost DMR radios from China. Without the cheap radios, I don't think the growth would have occurred. At this year's Hamvention, I heard one vendor was selling the Tytera MD-380 for $99 and R & L had them inside for $110. Pretty cheap and easy way to get into digital voice.

Alinco announced their DMR radio is coming out so they will be the first mainstream amateur radio manufacturer with a DMR radio. Price is still unknown.

Yeasu's Fusion system has caught up with DMR and DStar in terms of the number of repeaters. In fact, Fusion might have the largest number of repeaters. This is because Yaesu was offering them for $500 and $600 to clubs and many club bought them to replace their older repeaters. I mean for $500 a piece, who can refuse. Trouble is that many of those repeaters were installed in FM mode only. However, in my area about four are dual mode FM/Digital so there are a number of Fusion systems that I can hit and actually use digital voice.

With DMR, there are three wide coverage repeaters in my area. A third system just came on-line a few weeks ago. So I have plenty of repeaters to experiment and chat on.

DStar has four repeaters in the area and I have been using them for quite some time along with the DVAP dongle.

Here is my impressions so far for each of the digital technologies.

DStar still has the most flexibility. Because the radios are designed for hams, they allow greater flexibility. All DStar radios have a data port making it easier to connect the radio to a computer or tablet and use an application for texting and file transfer. There are a number of applications written to make use of this feature and include, DRATS, DChat and Ham Radio Deluxe.

None of the three DMR radios I have include a data port. There are still no text for file transfer programs that I am aware of for use on DMR in spite of the fact that MARC has a DMR sandbox available for over a year to provide for such development. So DMR is still pretty much a digital voice method/and some quick texting within the radios and that is about it.

Fusion, I believe has the ability and I believe some radios have a data port, but my FTM-3200 does not. I also have not found any text/file transfer applications for Fusion.

DStar can still pass APRS information to the APRS network. DMR cannot do this and Fusion cannot do this.

As for repeaters, amateurs can easily build their own DStar repeaters. You cannot do this (or at least easily do it) with DMR or Fusion. I believe I read where one ham was able to do it with DMR, but other than that, I have heard nothing more about home brewing a DMR repeater or a Fusion repeater. Heck, at this point, why would you even consider building your own Fusion repeater when Yaesu is almost giving them away?

The cost of a DStar repeater from Icom is moderately expensive, but less than $2,000 for controller and one band. DMR used repeaters are about the same and the new repeaters are very expensive. Fusion again is almost free at this time, but pretty soon Yaesu will stop giving them away.

Depending on where you live, you probably have access to a DStar repeater close by. With DMR, there are many areas that are very well covered, but then again there are some states with very low to no coverage. Heck, look at Missouri where one of the largest cities in America, St. Louis is still without a DMR repeater! Or course with Fusion, the repeaters are now all over the place, but again, many are just in FM mode. Seems Yaesu should have made the repeaters so that they ONLY worked in dual automatic mode. That was a big marketing error in my opinion.

Let's talk about voice quality. The way I saw others ranks voice quality was that Fusion was supposed to be the best, followed by DMR and then DStar. I guess in theory that should be true, but practically, that is not the case from my observation. Side by side, it is hard to tell a difference in audio quality between DMR and Fusion. I just don't hear any difference. DStar is a very close second to DMR and Fusion. DMR and Fusion seem to have more low response than DStar. DStar does sound slightly crisper to me. In any case, just not enough difference in my opinion to make any one of the digital methods any better than the other when making a purchasing decision.

Digital voice recovery. You have all heard about R2D2 with DStar. It is the sound the signal makes when it is not strong enough to decode. DMR has something similar that sounds like a high pitched motor boat. I have not heard what happens when a Fusion signal is getting too weak to decode. I explain later why that is.

The one thing I really like about DStar and Fusion is the use of call signs. So when someone transmits, I see their call on my display. In fact, I also see the calls of the repeaters. With DMR, being a commercial standard that hams are using, the radio has an ID that is associated to the callsign. The display however is not automatic like it is with DStar and Fusion. If you program the radio with other users callsign and radio number, the radio is then capable of displaying the call. Now most of the commercial DMR radios are limited to storing 1,000 or less contacts. Only Connect System radios can go up to slightly over 65,000. Since I have two Connect System radios, I can load all 35,000+ DMR contacts into my radio. This is a manual process and has to be repeated every so often to keep the radios up to date.

Usage of the three is widely different at this point. DStar has kind of leveled off though DStar radios were selling well at Dayton and Kenwood is coming out with their DStar radio this Fall. DMR use has exploded as I mentioned previously due to the availability of low cost radios. Fusion on the other hand has few users compared to the other two. I wonder if the low cost of the DMR radios is having an impact on this. So far with numerous calls on Fusion repeaters, I have only had one person respond. The only other activity has been weekly nets and those have sparse checkins.

So all three work. It depends on the area you live at this point as to what technology you go with because you want a repeater and you want others to talk to. Many are going with multiple technologies if their budgets can handle it.

Check the repeaters maps to see what repeaters are available in your area. But even if you have Fusion repeaters in your area, and a lot of them, just remember, if you are like me, that does not mean a lot of hams in the area are going to have radios. If you have DMR or DStar repeaters in your area, there is a good chance there are users so you are probably safe going with either or both. If you are cheap like many hams and have DMR repeaters in your area, pick up a Tytera MD-380.

Oh, and for DMR, you want to find someone in your area who will share their "code-plug" with you. A code-plug is just the terminology used in DMR which means the programming file. You can also find them all over the Internet for your area. Just download, enter your call, and some other basic information, load to the radio and start talking.

I'll comment about networking of the three technologies in another upcoming blog.

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