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.