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.


Misguided Hams on eBay and Mototrbo

I was doing a search on eBay the other day for DStar equipment. I came across this posting. Actually the person had a couple of beat-up commercial items up for auction using this or a similar description:

50 watt 32 channel VHF 136-174

You are bidding on the next technology in digital FM communications. Once I figured out that Motorola commercial Dmr was cheaper than my icom dstar equipment, i sold all my dstar repeaters and gear!

No kidding! Yaesu is coming out with DMR radios soon, but motorola, hytera, vertex already exist. DMR is an open ETSI standard and is legal on the hambands. You can buy a complete repeater new for less than $2000, and mobile rigs for less than $500. This technology fits 2 voice / data channels into 1 repeater! To do this with an icom dstar stack you would need 2 rp and 1 contoller - would cost $4500! Lets face it Dstar is 10 year old technology now.

Yes motorolas software is $250 - but it programs every version of mototrbo mobile and portable. The ham software costs $50 for each model of radio!

Once you've used commercial gear on the ham bands you will never turn back!

See my other auctions for a mototrbo repeater.

I have licensed cps and will program for free for winning bidder, or radio ships with 162.400 and 162.55 wx channels.

Included in auction but not pictured is new mobile bracket and new oem power cable. Radio is in mint condition and never seen mobile use.

Due to the technical nature of this equipment and the potential to brick the unit - No returns! all sales final.

Now I left the grammar and spelling as is. Let's analyze all these claims.

This used and beat-up stuff is supposedly cheaper. The current bid was $200 for a single-band radio with no warranty. I can now buy a NEW DStar radio single band for less than $300 with warranty. Why would I want to buy used stuff without warranty for $200 or more as the bidding is not over? Oh, and that under $300 DStar radio also has a built-in GPS unit.

Then I have to buy the programming software for $250. So now we're at $450 or more. Cheaper? No.

Actually the person says that all software for Icom cost $50 a radio. Not true at all. In many cases, Icom gives you the programming software for free. Or, in all cases, you can use the FREE software from Chirp to program them. Oh, Chirp does not support this commercial crap.

DMR is an open standard. OK, so is DStar. No difference there, but the poster leads you to believe there is. In both cases the Codec used for digital communications is proprietary. Again, no difference.

The other claim, once you have used commercial gear on ham bands, you'll never turn back. Well I have, and because it is not made for the amateur market, I did turn back and will never use commercial surplus again. It is not supported by the manufacturers for amateur use. It is made for commercial markets so it does not have the same flexibility for amateur use. Oh it works, but not worth the aggravation or expense.

The seller will program for free. Great, now that you have the radio, you want to change the programming? Good luck. In most cases, you'll be lucky if you can actually buy the programming software.

Finally here is another myth. The technology is 10 years old so it is outdated. Not true in being outdated. Yes, it is 10 years old, but it is technology designed specifically for hams! All this commercial garbage is designed for markets other than ham radio. Second, if I use that logic, in 5 years when something else comes out for the commercial market, then this Mototrbo stuff the seller is trying to get rid of is also outdated.

Sure, this commercial stuff fits 2 voice/data channels into one repeater. Yup, but at twice the bandwidth of DStar! Doh, didn't tell you that did he/she!

So he sold all his DStar stuff and went to Mototrbo. Great, who is he talking to? Yaesu has yet to begin selling a Mototrbo for ham radio and apparently whatever it is Yaesu will introduce for hams is not the same at Mototrbo. There are darn few DMR repeaters compared to thousands for DStar. Nothing for this Yaesu ham mototrbo stuff.

Hams have a choice. You can go with DStar with over 1,000 repeaters worldwide. Use a PROVEN technology used by thousands of hams around the world. Use a technology designed for hams by hams.


You can use Yaesu's commercial equipment, adapted for ham use. Designed without hams in mind. With hardly any users. With maybe a couple of repeaters. No one to really talk to. Price of their equipment still unknown, unless you want to use this "refurbished" commercial junk which is still at a price close to DStar's NEW with warranty equipment.

BTW, one only has to look at Yeasu's record of going against the tide. In the U.S we developed IRLP and Echolink. Yaesu went against IRLP and Echolink and created WIRES. Yeah, that's the useless "WIRES" button Yaesu still puts on their radios. No one barely uses WIRES outside of Japan.

Going against an established trend in Amateur Radio is stupid. Yaesu should have adopted DStar which is already well entrenched around the world.

In any case, don't be fooled by outlandish claims by people trying to dump used commercial gear on unsuspecting hams. Unless or course you are looking for a new boat anchor for your bass boat.

More on the Digital Wars - Icom DStar versus Yaesu Digital

I recently saw that Icom has announced two more radios with DStar.

The first is the ID-51A which is a dual-band (2meter/440Mhz) FM and DStar radio with GPS built-in. The entire DStar repeater database is loaded in a memory card. The GPS allows you to find DStar repeaters that are close to your location. The GPS will also capture your location and send it automatically to the DStar repeater system and using DPRS, feeds the location to the APRS network.

The IC-7100 is another “DC to Daylight” frequency coverage radio that has the usual modes plus DStar. Even has a touch screen.

Yaesu, who first showed their FT-1DR at Dayton. The FT-1DR is a dual band handheld with yet another digital voice mode that is intended to compete with DStar.

Well here we are now almost to October and still no Yaesu digital radio. Frankly, this radio is probably pretty much DOA. I would advise anyone who may be considering such a purchase unless you are looking for a fancier FM radio than what Yaesu already offers.

The Yaesu effort on their digital technology was so lackluster at Dayton, it actually caused a flurry of DStar purchases at Dayton. Many vendors sold out of DStar radios by mid-day Saturday.

Plans for new DStar repeaters actually accelerated following Dayton. There was just no excitement for the Yaesu offering. With DStar exploding in usage and acceptance, buying a Yaesu radio for digital usage means no one to talk to. Just because they came to the digital table late, does not mean it is superior to DStar.

Yaesu has made a huge mistake in going against the tide. They can claim their stuff is newer and the other stuff is older, but DStar sounds incredible in terms of voice quality and handles data with ease with half the bandwidth of Yaesu.

The radios keep coming from Icom and it is just a matter of time before another manufacturer jumps on the DStar bandwagon because that is what hams are buying.

Look at Yaesu’s WIRES Internet linking. No one uses it….well, I think maybe five repeater systems in the U.S. Over here we use Echolink and IRLP. Kenwood implemented Echolink into some of their radios. Smart manufacturers either create a market or go with the market. Yaesu did neither.

Such a waste.

Dayton Hamvention 2012 Recap

Another Dayton Hamvention has come and gone. I spent Thursday night thru Saturday afternoon with Rod WI0T and Russ WB8ZCC at the Hamvention. Thursday evening was the usual pre-Dayton drinking festivities. WB8ZCC suffered with a headache on Friday.

The good news is that the weather was great. It was the first Dayton Hamvention in recent memory where is did not rain at some point during the weekend. In fact, the skies were blue and beautiful and temperature in the 80s.

The crowd seemed about the same as last year to me, but then on Monday I was listening to the Dayton DStar repeater and the hams there said that the attendance was up this year to around 25,000 people. That means growth again. Great news for the Hamvention going forward.

Flea market vendors were down again. That's OK since most of the vendors who did come had nothing but junk at premium prices. I suspect a number of them toted the stuff home since they apparently think their junk is worth just a little less than buying something new with a warranty. I just don't understand what people are thinking with these asking prices. Some say it is because of eBay, but I don't believe it. Most of this stuff was junk and most of the stuff on eBay is of decent quality, or at least that is my experience.

In any case I anticipated that there would be a big crowd at the Yaesu booth looking at their new digital handheld radio the FT-1DR/E. To my surprise, there was very little interest and no crowd whatsoever. Just the usual people stopping by to get their free Yaesa hat (by the way, someone told me that in Japanese, Yaesu means "free hat." In any case, when I tried discussing the new digital offering with the Yaesu people, about all they could tell me was that "it is not P25 and not DStar."

From what I can tell the bandwidth is twice as wide as DStar, hence faster data speeds, it has a built-in GPS, and that it is capable of taking and sending very low resolution pictures. Since the handheld cannot display the picture I am not sure what the full benefit is with that function. Furthermore, even if sending it to a base unit allowing them to view it on a PC, the picture is so low in resolution it would not be worth much to me. The radio does attach the position of the radio to the picture so you can return to the place where it was taken. In marketing we would call it flash and trash.

It does allow for a micro SD card to back-up data and store GPS positions just like the current DStar handheld radio the ID-31. It also has digital ARTS, but I have never seen or known anyone to use ARTS on their analog radios.

There is no mention of call-sign routing or being able to use the GPS function to transfer position to the APRS network as there is today with DStar.

You can apparently send Group Short Messages and we all know it is not easy to send messages with the keyboards on anyone's handheld….at least not fast.

It appears that this Yaesu digital radio is really just trying to migrate a commercial technology into ham radio. We all know that DStar from the ground up was designed specifically for amateur radio. So now you have a choice between a technology designed for amateur radio and one designed for commercial users and shoe horned for you. An easy selection in my opinion.

So Yaesu was not selling any of the radios, with little excitement from amateurs, with no one to talk to because of zero Yaesu digital capable repeaters, why would you buy it? Again, I think Yaesu made a big mistake with this direction since DStar is already an established digital standard that works extremely well in spite of Yaesu's attempt to create FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) by saying it is old technology. Don't believe it folks.

Well I had to have some fun with Yaesu and mock their poor decision to go in another digital direction. WI0T, WB8ZCC and I did wear some yellow T-Shirts I had produced prior to the Hamvention that said "DStar, THE Digital Standard for Amateur Radio" on the front and "DStar Accept No Substitutes" on the back. We wore them the entire day on Saturday. People loved it for the most part. A few made negative comments, probably the old hate to change CW forever crowd. We also wore them at the Yaesu booth and stood around talking. Yaesu folks didn't seem to care and since most people passed on taking a look at their new FT-1DR/E, the average ham didn't even get the meaning.

In summary, it looks to me that the Yaesu digital offering is DOA.

On the other hand, DStar is alive and well with tremendous and growing interest at the Hamvention. The DStar gatherings on Thursday and Friday nights were packed with hams. Icom gave a presentation on the history of DStar that was very interesting. It outlined why they selected the Codec and GMSK for the base of DStar. Once you listen to that presentation, it all makes sense.

The DStar education forum was also packed with hams eager to learn about the DStar technology and all that it can offer.

Many of the vendors of DStar equipment had sold most of the on-site DStar inventory by Saturday morning. The ID-31 handhelds were the first to sell-out as that is the latest and greatest easy to use DStar handheld complete with GPS and the entire DStar repeater database. With the GPS, the ID-31 can automatically find and program the radio for the closest repeater. Of course since it has the built-in GPS, it can also send your position to the APRS network. So DStar is growing very rapidly now and just exploding in growth. With close to a thousand world-wide DStar repeaters now and all 50 states covered, it is no wonder the digital excitement is with DStar and not Yaesu.

TenTec showed off the new QRP transceiver and the new QRP amplifier. The amp looks very interesting. The QRP transceiver is missing 12 meters. TenTec said it would not fit. Huh? So Elecraft can bring out a 10 watt QRP radio with 160 meters up to 6 meters in a smaller box and TenTec cannot even get all the HF bands to fit into a larger box. Very puzzling to me.

Alinco showed off their new SDR transceiver. Frankly, it looks like their regular HF transceiver without the panel and with a computer to control it. No comparison to the Flexradio SDR radios.

Flexradio showed off their new and coming new SDR radio. This is aimed towards the money crowd with a price to be around $7,000. Out of my league, but I am sure it is going to be great.

Kenwood showed their new 990 HF radio. Wow, this thing is a monster and rumored to be around $10K list price. Again, for the money crowd, but the radio looked great.

Go to my Dayton Hamvention 2012 Photo Album for pictures of all the new offerings.

The ARRL booth was crazy with activity and helps to create a lot of excitement around ham radio.

W4PC and the Ham Radio Deluxe gang were there to show off what is coming in the new 6.0 release. They had a line of people waiting to pay $60 for support and the next HRD version 6.0 which of course will start the paid subscription model of HRD. HRD is by far the best radio control, multimode and logging program out there supporting all the major radios with one license. I know hams are use to mostly free software. But if we want people to continue to support and develop their software, we're going to have to start paying them to do so. There is nothing more frustrating to me than to use and like a program, only to have the author drop support because it takes up too much of his free time. These guys and gals need to get compensated for their time. Let's support HRD folks.

There were also many vendors selling all those new cheap China radios. Many people were buying the Wouxun, Baofeng, TYT and some other weird name radios. Hey, they're pretty much cheap throw-a-ways. I mean were else can you get a dual band four or five watt handheld with rapid charger for $65 bucks?

So we had a great time and there is so much more to talk about. After all there are hundreds of vendors and I would wear my fingers out typing comments about all of them so I just tried to hit the highlights.

I know gas prices are up, but the trip to Dayton each year is well worth it.

The Yaesu Mistake

Happy New Year!

Last week I was getting ready to head down to Atlanta to visit my daughter and her family. Atlanta is a great place to visit, especially if you are into D-Star. Heck, the whole Southeast area of the United States is a D-Star haven. But I digress.

I read a post on the TAPR APRS SIG about Yaesu finally introducing digital radio. It looks like they are going to bring out something that is based on P25. P25 is a digital mode developed for the United States Public Sevices - as in police, fire, government service, etc.

Now Icom introduced D-Star a number of years ago. D-Star was developed for the amateur radio community and developed for an international market. P25 is a digital method developed for the U.S. government market and not a worldwide market and hardly developed for the amateur community. D-Star is a completely open standard. The only thing proprietary is the digital Codec. Not a big deal.

There is a well established and growing D-Star presence throughout the world. So now Yaesu is going to come along and hose things up by introducing something different. What's next, Kenwood coming out with their own digital mode?

Yaesu's actions are nothing short of nuts. Why not go with what is already established and a defacto standard in the amateur community? What are they trying to create, the Beta/VHS war of years ago?

One amateur on the list who will remain nameless commented that he never got D-Star and thought it was stupid. Why? Because if could not interoperate with the U.S. public service systems! Well I have got news for him and everyone else. The police and fire agencies are NEVER going to link their communication systems with amateur systems. Thinking this is nothing but foolish. Each service will stand on its own. So that kind of blows the whole need for one common system for digital. Heck, even in the U.S., the railroads have chosen their own digital system. There is no standard across all services. Each service picks its own standard.

D-Star has become the standard. What a mistake for Yaesu to not have jumped on the D-Star bandwagon. Remember, Yaesu is the same company who went with "Wires" instead of Echolink and IRLP. As a result of that horrible decision, almost no one uses Wires. Yaesu is making another mistake trying to go on its own. This can only benefit Icom.