Only need Alaska on 40M

The other day, I was finally able to work a station in Montana on 40 meters using JT-65. This morning I saw that the QSO was verified on LoTW. Excellent!!

Now I just need one more state, Alaska, in order to achieve WAS on 40M and WAS Digital on 40M. I keep looking for Alaska and calling CQ KL7, but nothing yet.

So if you are an Alaskan station on 40M, please drop me a email if you can help with a sked on 40M.

General Update & Thoughts

Here are some updates on my activities and observations on ham radio.

Ten-Tec - It seems that many are starting to give up hope that we'll ever see a return of Ten-Tec. No news from the new owner. He has had the company now for about a year and we still have not seen the start of amateur radio production and sales. The "store" has noted it is under construction for months. It does not take that long to build a website so we have to assume that there is nothing to sell. I wonder if Elecraft has become the new "Ten-Tec" in terms of being an American manufacturer hams can rally around.

Digital Voice Modes (DStar/DMR/Fusion) - Kenwood is now selling their new DStar/APRS radio. The radio looks sweet, but the price is just out of the range of many. Hopefully we'll see the price come down over time.

I have to wonder if Icom has lost real interest in DStar. I love DStar. It is a great mode designed specifically for amateur radio. It can do all sorts of things that modes like DMR or even Fusion cannot do. I think two things have really caused the growth of DStar of slow to a trickle.

First, DMR and cheap Chinese radios. Let's face it, a ham can get into digital voice for a hundred bucks. If DMR radios were $500 and up, DMR never would have exploded. Sure some buy those expensive Motorola radios, but a vast majority got into DMR with low-cost radios. I use DMR and the problem I see with DMR is that for the most part, DMR is just digital voice. There are no digital messaging programs developed for ham use. Most DMR radios have no connection that would allow the radio to connect to a computer to allow for digital messaging (think DRats with DStar). It is just digital voice and networking of repeaters. The DMR sandbox has really produced nothing revolutionary. In fact, I have not seen any announcements of folks even using the sandbox to create new DMR add-ons. Yeah, they have the hotspots and dongle to allow access for those without DMR repeaters nearby, but that is about the extent of it.

Second, cheap Fusion repeaters from Yaesu. Amateur clubs and organizations bought these repeaters in droves when Yaesu offered them for $500 each. So money that may have gone to a DStar repeater purchase, suddenly went to Yaesu. I mean why not? $500 for a repeater that would do FM or Fusion. Another issue is that most of these repeaters are being used for FM only. I bought a Fusion radio at Dayton this year. It was their low cost mobile and got it for $169 as I recall. I think it is lower now. Trying to find someone to talk to on Fusion digital is almost impossible except during their weekly Fusion net with very few check-ins by the way.

We also have a P25 repeater in the area. I don't have a P25 radio, but I can monitor it. There is very little P25 activity on that repeater.

Again, because we have so many competing digital modes, the activity is rather limited since everyone is spread out among multiple digital voice technologies and repeaters. It has become not only difficult to find someone to talk to on Fusion, but also on DMR and DStar. Sure, you can find someone on the national or state level, but just trying find someone local to talk to is a challenge.

I wish hams would have agreed on one standard and moved forward with a single digital technology and united everyone instead of creating this fragmented mess.

Multi-protocol digital radios - Here is another beef. You would have thought that manufacturers like Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood would have come out with a dual band radio capable of DStar, DMR and Fusion and even P25. But sadly no. However, it looks like some hams have taken this on themselves and starting to just do it without the big three. Albeit the radios are expensive, but still cheaper than buying multiple single technology radios. Hopefully the big three will have taken the hint and will create something to fill this much needed void in the market.

HF and Digital Modes - Sunspots maybe down, but the activity on digital modes is still happening and very strong. DX is even great on the digital modes. So if you are still chasing countries and DX contacts, move to digital as there is still plenty of DX there.

Dayton Hamvention — Finally the Hamvention is moving and away from that dump called Hara Arena. Have to reserve judgement on the new location until this coming May. I am optimistic. I am sure the Hamvention committee is working hard to make this a success. Even if the first year is a little rough, it will not discourage me as they will learn from the issues and make it better the second year. Looking forward to Dayton again in 2017.

SDR Radios - If you have not played around with an SDR radio, think about giving it a try. I have an Afedri and a Funcube and both are fun to experiment with as there a a number of free programs out there that you can try. Even transceivers are moving in the direction of SDR. Icom has taken a real lead incorporating SDR technology into their radios.

With Thanksgiving this week, I hope all my fellow hams have a Happy and Safe Thanksgiving. Remember to give thanks to God for all the goodness in our lives.


Website Changes

I decided to pull the Cincinnati repeater listing today. First, it was way out of date. It was the only part of the website that was written in HTML. Changes and updates just took too much time.

With many of the repeaters having changed from FM to some sort of digital mode like DStar, DMR, Fusion or P25, the listing just was not accurate.

So until I can find a better way to maintain the repeater listing and easily update the constant changes, the Cincinnati Repeater Listing has been deleted from the site.

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.


Dayton Hamvention 2016 Recap

This year I was able to attend the Hamvention for only one day. I was on a business trip and did not get back until Friday night at about 11:00 PM. But it was great to still be able to attend the Hamvention for at least one day. So here are some of my comments about this year's Hamvention.

First, the Hara Arena is rapidly decaying. There are all sorts of rumors about Montgomery County wanting the property to the county fairgrounds. There are also rumors about the owners losing money, taxes owed, etc. Clearly there is no money being put into any upkeep of the facility. The condition of Hara this year was the worst I have even seen.

Restrooms were filthy and poorly maintained. Two of my friends used the outside port-a-lets because they were cleaner than the bathrooms!

Attendance was down quite a bit. I am guessing it might have been as low as 16,000. From what I heard from other hams, the place is just too unattractive and turning off many from attending.

The parking lot that host the flea market is also deteriorating. The pavement is crumbling in many places. Very few garbage cans were placed in the flea market. As a result, you saw piles of old electronics abandoned on the ground. Guess the XYL told them to sell it or leave it.

We tried attending the Yaesu Fusion forum, but the room had to be in the mid 80's so it was just too hot to sit in there. Apparently Hara's air conditioning was not working or they could not afford to turn it on. The rest of the forum rooms were also too warm. No forums this year.

Since Yeasu came out with a very affordable Fusion radio, the FTM-3200, I purchased one from Ham Radio Outlet (HRO). At $169 it will give me the opportunity to evaluate and compare the various digital voice methods commonly being used on the VHF/UHF bands. I'll write a blog with a comparison between DStar, DMR and Fusion soon.

Speaking of DStar, Kenwood was showing their new DStar, APRS, FM dual-band handheld. It is supposed to be available around November of this year. This has been rumored since November of last year so it now appears to be reality. Now that a second major manufacturer has begun selling DStar radios, that should put to bed all that FUD about DStar being proprietary and only an Icom standard. The radio looked great as it uses a color screen. The problem is the list price is supposed to be north of $600. Needs to be in the $300 range or it is going to be out of the reach of many hams.

The Europeans were there showing off their concept of a multi-digital mode VHF/UHF radio that supports DStar, DMR, Fusion and FM. The radio is tentatively priced between $800 to $1,000. Kind of high, but might be worth it as everything will be built into one radio. If a group of hams can pull this off, surely Icom, Kenwood and Yaesu can do it also. It's just a crying shame that all the manufacturers could not agree on one standard instead of creating the division by having so many different digital modes.

Ham Radio Deluxe (HRD) was showing the JT-65 capability that will soon be added to the DM-780 application within the HRD Suite of fully integrated applications. That is the best ham radio application out there for someone who wants software to do it all. Spoke to Rick at HRD who said they have over 50,000 paid users! If you build and maintain it, they will come!

While on the subject of vendors, there was also a reduction in the number of commercial vendors. For that matter, even the number of flea market vendors seemed down but the rain might have forced many to just give up.

There were a number of niche vendors there showing off their products and there was just too many of those new products to talk about here. More SDR radios, more digital voice hotspots, and a host of other things being discussed on many of the forum boards at eham, QRZ and Yahoo Groups.

All I can say is that DARA better find a new venue fast and find a way to invigorate the Hamvention.


Update on Everything

Yes I know I have been a bit quiet on the blog recently. And this is really not about everything. I've actually been fairly active on DStar, DMR, and JT-65. Messed around with a few other modes like CW, FSQ, and of course FM on 2 and 440.

Looks like Connect Systems has finally gotten close to finishing the firmware on the CS750 handheld and CS800 mobile radios for DMR and FM. Still a few bugs but they are almost there. Still would like to see the CS7000 which promises to support both DMR and DStar. Now wouldn't it be nice to have a radio that did all the digital modes and FM? Well they say they can get there but want to do DMR and DStar first.

Yaesu Fusion is out there and a number of people/clubs bought their repeaters at the special price of around $500. However, our club only has them in FM operation. I think a lot of clubs did the same thing. Not many people using them for Fusion. Seems like DStar and DMR seem to be the predominant digital modes. DStar still in the lead and there is still so much more activity on DStar than DMR in my opinion. In any case, for voice, they both do a nice job. When it comes to more than voice, DStar is still the choice.

I am sure you all read where TenTec changed hands yet again. Fourth owner in two years. But we have to face it, the old TenTec is gone. The new owner of the assets of the old company promises a new more invigorated TenTec with great products. So we'll see. However, I would not expect anything new for at least a year. There is a lot of work to do to basically start the company from scratch.

Rumors were that Kenwood was going to announce a DStar radio around Thanksgiving. So far, just the sound of crickets.

Another rumor is that Alnico is going to introduce a DMR radio for hams. So we'll see if that comes to fruition.

Since most of the nation is facing snow and cold, you might as well get on the air and communicate with someone. Ham radio was meant for cold Winter nights. So take advantage of the season and get on the radio!