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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