D-Star Update

It's been a long time since I did any updates on the blog or the website for that matter. I'll try to do better in the future.

So I have had a number of emails over the past few years asking what is my thoughts on D-Star at this point.

First, I think D-Star is a wonderful digital voice protocol for amateur radio. That being said, I think it is failing. Frankly, I kind of think digital voice for amateur radio is not doing very well at all.

Sure on HF there is FreeDV using Codec2 but not that much activity. On VHF and UHF there is DMR, Fusion and of course, D-Star. Activity on all of those three seems to be waning.

DMR caught on because of cheap Chinese radios (albeit poor hardware support) and the cost of D-Star radios being so high in comparison. Yaesu who was rather late to the digital party, came out with Fusion.

What Yaesu did right was provide at least one low-cost hand-held to make it easy for hams to get into digital. They also provided a lot of repeaters at a very low cost to clubs and repeater groups. What really helped was that a single repeater could do both FM and Digital/Fusion. D-Star repeaters originally could only do digital. Icom finally came out with dual mode repeaters, but they are very late to the party.

If you look at the current situation with Icom/D-Star, Yaesu/Fusion, Kenwood/D-Star and DMR (multiple suppliers) acceptance is rather mixed.

Kenwood has now dropped their D-Star handheld with no replacement announced. It was very successful among existing D-Star users, but did not find a lot of acceptance among new users mainly because of it high retail price. Did Kenwood drop it because of the current world-wide parts shortage or did they see a limited market going forward; that is the unknown.

Icom is down to offering one D-Star handheld. A very nice radio, but a very high retail price. Again, existing D-Star users will buy it, but is it going to bring in new D-Star users? No, I don't think so. Icom still offers two mobile radios and HF combo radios with D-Star but I have heard of some owners of those radios who never even tried D-Star.

Here in Cincinnati we have one D-Star repeater remaining with more to the north in Dayton. None in Northern Kentucky are remaining. There are still pockets of D-Star activity around the world, but I no longer see the growth.

Yaesu with their Fusion system is very affordable as Yaesu offers some entry level radios. I think I paid $170 for the Yaesu 2M mobile radio which was my intro into Fusion. The audio quality was better than D-Star or DMR, but like DMR did not have the data capability that is a nice capability with D-Star. But I still have trouble getting a digital contact on Fusion/FM repeaters unless I am using FM.

DMR seems to be doing about as well as Fusion. But I think both digital voice methods have kind of plateaued with slow growth.

So where does this all go? I don't know exactly. DMR is great for being able to get radios from multiple sources. Fusion capability radios only available from Yaesu, but the radios are affordable and unlike most Chinese DMR radios, there is real support and repair available in the US. Sure you can buy expensive DMR radios from Motorola, but then you have to pay a fortune to buy the programming software for the radios. Icom is just pricing themselves out of the market and D-Star growth appears at a standstill.

In a nutshell, generally speaking, hams just seem to be happy using FM on VHF/UHF. I'll keep watching and write if I see anything changing in the future.