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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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.


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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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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.



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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!



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DMR - It's Not Personal

I don’t know why, but some people take criticism of technology personally. Maybe its because they spend money on some technology product and if someone else makes negative comments about it, they feel they must defend it as if they have to defend and justify their financial investment.

Take my comments on DMR. I have people, one in particular, that attack my comments on DMR as if I am personally attacking them. How silly.

Yes, I use DMR. I also use DStar. Not using any other digital (primarily) voice technology right now because it gets too costly to get one of everything. My real criticism of digital technology as it relates to ham radio is that the manufacturers could not decide on ONE technology to use. This fragmentation is frankly keeping a lot of hams from adopting digital and thus they are staying on FM. So while a town like Cincinnati has two DMR repeaters, two DStar repeater stacks, a P25, and a couple of Fusion systems, there are just a few hams on each system. Most are still on FM. So instead of the digital users expanding, you find most of the digital users using FM.

I did buy a couple of DMR radios because we got a few DMR repeaters and the radios were CHEAP! Had it not been for CHEAP, I would not have branched out into DMR.

But that has not changed my basic beliefs too much about DMR. Yup, sounds a little better than DStar but not overwhelmingly better. If you have the latest generation DStar radios, they should very good. So does DMR.

It is still difficult to find a conversation on DMR compared to DStar. Even on the DMR North American talk group at times.

Yeah, DStar has that R2D2 noise when the signal gets weak. When the DMR signal gets weak it also distorts but sounds different, so the only difference between the two is the sound of the digital signal when it gets weak. That does not make one better than the other.

The DMR networking is nice, but it is not as flexible as DStar. If the DMR repeater owner does not offer a talk group, you cannot connect to it yourself. With DStar you can connect to any reflector you like. Just program it into your radio.

With DMR you must use a commercially manufacturer repeater. I’ve asked many times, and there is no way to home-brew a DMR repeater. With DStar, a hundred dollar board, a computer and a couple of FM radios, you can build your own DStar repeater.

DStar has all sorts of applications that allow you to send text and files over the radio. I have not seen anything like this readily available with DMR. I think Motorola might offer something, but not something that is open source and could be used by anyone without a license fee.

DStar requires you to register a call sign. DMR requires a registration/serial number. To get a call and name to show up with a DMR transmission, you would have had to program a person’s registration/serial number into your radio along with that person’s name to get it to display. With DStar, when a person transmit, it comes with their call automatically. The DStar user can also program his radio to display on your receiving radio something like “Bob in Detroit” or “Bob on ID51A.”

With DStar, if your radio has a built-n GPS, when you transmit your position is sent and also sent to the APRS network. Have not seen that capability with DMR.

So it all comes back to this DMR is a commercial standard that hams are trying to make work in amateur radio. But as of yet, it is still lacking what DStar has now. Will it get to the same point as DStar is at now, I don’t know, we’ll see but the current state of the DMR technology does not seem to allow that kind of flexibility.

If you don’t agree with me, fine. You don’t have to attack me personally over my comments. If you have better information like “there is now a DRats-like program for DMR” then let me know about it. If DMR moves to registering call signs and they display with each transmission, let me know. If you can easily home-brew a DMR repeater, tell me about it.

However as of now, DMR is a digital voice system, sounds nice, is networked and any ham can use it inexpensively with the Chinese radios; provided you have a local DMR repeater.

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DMR in North Carolina

Well I decided to bring the DMR radio with me to Surf City/Topsoil, North Carolina during vacation. I elected this radio instead of DStar since there are more DMR repeaters in North Carolina than DStar repeaters. In fact, with the number of DMR repeaters shown in this and the surrounding state, I thought DMR must really be popular.

I had all the DMR repeaters programmed into the CS750. So I was well covered. While I thought I would be able to hit Jacksonville, NC and Wilmington, NC repeaters from the beach area, I was only able to hit the Wilmington repeater.

The first night I got here, I had a brief conversation with a couple of gentlemen on the Southeast talk group. But since then, in spite of repeated calls on Southeast and the local talk groups, I have not received any calls or heard but a few brief conversations.

I really thought there would be a lot more activity on DMR in this area given the number of repeaters.

Continues to demonstrate that if you want to get into digital, and actually have someone to talk to, get a DStar radio for now.
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DMR so far

I have had DMR for almost a week. A big thanks to Dan, KC8ZUM, for helping me get started with a simple code plug (radio programming) that got me up and running on one local repeater. It helped me understand and learn to program these DMR radios.

I have now programmed in all the Ohio DMR repeaters and posted my code plug on the CSI DMR radio groups on Yahoo in order to help others. I will continue to program in repeaters in other states as I get time. Frankly, DMR programming is a bit laborious.

In any case what I can say is that DMR has advantages and disadvantages to other digital voice modes. When I get some time, I intend to create a spreadsheet outlining the pros and cons as I see them.

Here is my biggest disappointment. It is hard to find anyone on the radio to talk to. The North American timeslot I was told is the busiest. It is very quiet. For a mode that proponents claim is exploding with growth, it is awfully quiet. I've even called on the Worldwide and Worldwide English timeslots without success. Called on local, not a soul responds.

Now I have had a few conversations on North America, but if I were creating my own impressions of DMR on use alone, my guess would be that only 20 to 30 people even owned a DMR radio.

Where is everyone? Maybe I just cannot hear them over the sounds of crickets chirping.
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DStar versus DMR - First Impressions

Well I like to experiment with new things in amateur radio. While I continue to voice my disappointment with the lack of a united digital standard in amateur radio, I have resigned myself to the belief that we are going to have multiple digital methods in use for sometime until the market, if ever, determines which digital method will win out....which of course may never happen in the foreseeable future.

Since the price of new DMR radios has come down quite a bit, mostly because of the cheap Chinese radios, I decided to order one. I did not actually place an order until we had a few DMR repeaters in the area. I mean why buy a radio without anyone to talk to?

I ordered a CS750 which is a Chinese built radio by Covalue and marketed by Connect Systems in California. Connect Systems is also the company trying to produce the CS7000 which promises to support both DStar and DMR. The reason I purchased this radio is because it is low cost and second, because Connect Systems will service it if there is an issue with it.

So here are the first impressions with a radio and digital method I have used in less than 24 hours.

First, I have been told that DMR adoption is exploding with repeaters and users. Not my experience. I was told by a current DMR user that the North American talk group was one of the busiest. Not many people answering calls and not a lot of activity. I had a few QSOs, but compared to DStar Reflector 30 (which is just a regional reflector), there is no comparison. I have not found any activity yet on the DMR Midwest talk group or any of the local talk groups. In other words, where is everyone?

Second, audio quality between DStar and DMR is about equal. I really do not hear any significant difference. I will give to DMR that it seems to recover faster than DStar which means you do not hear the "R2D2" sounds when DMR becomes marginal.

Third, programming DMR is laborious in my opinion compared to DStar. With the newest generation DStar radios, about the only thing you need to program is your call. All the current DStar repeaters are pre-programmed into the DStar radios and the newest DStar radios have a GPS which will locate the closest DStar repeater for you. No guessing when traveling. DMR does not seem to have the ability to have such a function. I do not see anywhere where you can store the GPS coordinates of the DMR repeater.

The software that came with the CS750 is not nearly as easy to use as the Icom DStar programs or even Chirp. When I tried to import repeaters and contacts into the CS750 software, instead of appending the new contacts and repeaters to the existing contacts and repeaters, it just overwrites what was already there. This means I have to really do the cut and pasting with Excel first before trying to do the import. Yikes, more work.

Fourth, DMR does not seem to have the ability to let users build their own repeaters like you can with DStar. So as I understand it, the cost of a DMR repeater is about $1,800 minimum. I am not sure if that includes the networking gear to allow it to connect to all these various talk groups. Yes, you can easily build your own DStar repeaters and some have done it for a few hundred bucks.

Fifth, as far as I can determine, I also do not see an ability to use an external program like D-RATS to send digital messages and data through the radios. Maybe that is coming. We'll see.

Sixth, there does not seem to be a way, or maybe any availability, to provide hotspots. This would allow someone who does not have a local repeater to still be able to access talk groups from home, car etc.

Finally the biggest issue is the use of a registration number instead of a callsign. So when a user is transmitting on DMR, you do not see his or her call, you see a number. We are hams, we have calls and we use our calls. Surprising that DMR could not be modified to use a call instead of these registration numbers. Now you can get the call to display instead of the registration number, but that requires you entering in the user call along with the registration number into the contacts list. It's all manual. With DStar the call is always displayed.

So in quick summary, while DMR is useable, it is not nearly as ham friendly as DStar. That's because DStar was created for hams, but hams. DMR was created by commercial interests for commercial users and we hams are trying to make it work for us.

I will continue to use both and report on my experiences and findings in the future.
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More reasons for DStar over DMR

I have been following Jerry Wanger’s comments on his work designing a DStar handheld to be introduced later this year. Jerry is president of Connect Systems and has already designed and selling a DMR radio at an affordable price. Now he wants to make DStar radios more affordable.

Jerry hopes to have a radio that can be upgraded to other digital methods so that one hand-held can work on a variety of digital methods including Codec2.

On the Yahoo discussion there were some comments he made about having to pay DVSI for using the codec as well as having to pay Motorola for license fees for Mototrbo (or related technologies) which is Motorola’s implementation of DMR. So apparently DMR is not always DMR and while Mototrbo is DMR, DMR is not always Mototrbo.

Don’t believe me? Take a look here: http://www.motorolasolutions.com/US-EN/Technology_Licensing/Standards-Based+Licensing/DMR+Essentials+Licensing+Program

There are no license fees for DStar other than for the DVSI codec.

So DStar is DStar. A completely open standard.

DMR is open, or maybe not if you have to pay Motorola license fees. But maybe license fees are only if you use Motorola’s implementation of DMR which means DMR is not DMR and can very from manufacturer to manufacturer depending on how someone may want to proprietarily enhance their “version” of DMR. What a freaking nightmare.

But people like Northwest Digital Radio, DutchStar, and now Connect Systems are all making or in the process of making DStar radios proving again that DStar is completely open.

You would expect this since DStar was designed by amateurs for amateurs specifically and only for the amateur marketplace.

DMR was designed by commercial interests for a commercial marketplace without consideration for amateurs. Hence why with DStar you register your call and you can use any DStar Gateway anywhere with any DStar capable radio that you programmed your call into. With DMR you register EACH radio.

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Digital Voice in Amateur Radio - Still a Fragmented Mess

While D-Star still reigns king as the digital voice standard in Amateur Radio, there is growing fragmentation in the ranks. Everyone has their own biases as to which one they like. Everyone throwing fud around trying the make the other guy’s choice look inferior. Yeah, I have been somewhat guilty of that too.

But it is amazing the number of choices out there. Icom with D-Star and Yaesu with its System Fusion are the only manufacturers making equipment specifically for hams. Those who want to use P25, DMR, NXDN have to rely on getting equipment from manufacturers who are concentrating on the commercial markets.

Then of course there is the Open Codec projects. All the systems mentioned above use a proprietary codec. Open Codec is an attempt to create a codec free of license fees. No ham manufacturer has adopted it and it seems to be only used on the HF bands right now using a software application that has to reside on a PC/Mac/Linux system.

In any case, Icom and Yaesu have put their digital stakes in the ground. Kenwood and the others continue to sit on the sidelines I guess waiting to see where the chips fall.

I just wonder how long the inevitable shake-out with the digital voice technologies will take. It could be years and years. One thing is for sure, the longer it takes, the longer it will be for the vast majority of amateurs to move from FM and adopt digital. No one wants to buy a radio that is going to end up an orphan.
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DStar versus DMR

Recently I have noticed a few people promoting DMR as the DStar replacement. So I have been looking into DMR a bit. Some of you may have read about Mototrbo which is Motorola's marking name for the DMR technology.

I intend to do a more in-depth comparison here between the various digital technologies. Not just DStar versus DMR, but also look at whatever Yaesu is coming out with, APCO25 and Nexedge/NXDN.

So I signed up on Yahoo Groups with a few of the DMR and Mototrbo groups. Via radio reference website, there even is a link to listen to one of the DMR networks/repeaters.

One of the first questions I asked on the groups, "can you build you own DMR/Mototrbo repeaters?" In other words, is it practical?

The answer I got was basically "no" that it is not practical and they way to get a repeater is to "get some of my friends together to share the cost." Also, not practical.

Now with DStar you can build a repeater yourself very easily. You need two transceivers with packet ports capable of supporting 9600 baud packet, a hotspot board and a computer. So here is what it cost to build a home-brew DStar repeater that a couple of folks in a local radio club are considering building.

Two single band Alinco radios. $279 each. Moencomm GMSK Node Adapter (hotspot board) at $120 and a computer, in this case a Raspberry Pi with Ethernet Adapter ($35 for the RPi and $30 for the Ethernet adapter. Total cost of the DStar repeater is $743 using all new equipment except for the duplexers and antenna which the club already has for the old UHF FM repeater days.

DMR well for a new repeater, since there are not a lot of used repeaters, about $3,000.

The other issue I see as a problem is with DMR each radio has an ID that has to be registered and is tied to the callsign of the user. This appears to be a real issue with sharing equipment and callsign routing, that is not an issue with DStar.

Also DMR programming is very complex. Mainly because DMR was meant for the commercial market. There are things that need to be programmed like "talkgroups" which do not exist in ham radio. If I read correctly, since all repeaters in a network are tied together, all transmissions go out over the entire network. There seems to be no way for an amateur operator to connect and disconnect the repeater to the network or network of choice. This is all easily done in DStar.

So here is what it really comes down to. DMR was designed for the commercial user in mind. DStar was designed for amateur radio. One fits better than the other. Both are open protocols except for the Codec which in both cases is proprietary. Both sound equally good.

DStar has over 1,000 repeaters world-wide. DMR less than 100. DStar has thousands of users world-wide while DMR has about 300.

DStar current generation radios can be used without any programming except for entering in the callsign of the user. DMR has to be programmed.

Clearly, DStar is way ahead. The question among many is will it remain there. DStar users say yes and DMR users say no. It's the 21st Century version of the code/no-code argument all over again.
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