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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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.
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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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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.
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