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.

First Blog Update in Over Two Years

Hard to believe it has been over two years since I last posted to the blog. Been very busy. Work was so stressful I decided to retire about a year and a half early. When the job starts impacting your health, it is time to go. Thought I would have more time for operating but I've spent the last year catching up on delayed home projects….then of course there is the grandchildren. Those kids take up a lot of time.

So what's new in ham radio? Well still active on DMR, DStar and Fusion. Actually starting to like Fusion. Activity seems to have trailed off on DMR. Heck for that matter, repeater usage seems to have declined. People do not like to talk. All I can think of is that people have forgotten how to carry on a conversation. All they know if how to text.

I have one friend who says, "no one is on the repeaters." I ask him, do you put out calls? "No" is his response. Well if everyone is doing what you are doing, just listening, then there will not be any activity. Someone has to start the conversation.

As for DMR, changed out all the "old" type hotspots and moved to three Pi-Star based hotspots. One I bought and two I built. One is on DStar, one on DMR and one on Fusion. In my opinion, these little Pi-Stars are great. You don't need one for each mode, that's just how I have them. One Pi-Star can be easily switched between DMR, DStar, Fusion, P25 and NXDN. The Pi-Star will also support going from one mode to another such as from DMR to NXDN. These things are great, not that expensive and highly recommended. You can even buy all the parts on Amazon and cases for them are also available on eBay.

For DMR radios, I have moved away from Connect Systems. Too many firmware fixes that do not fix the issues and do not work. I sold all my Connect Systems radios except for the CS750. I tried selling it on Facebook and eBay for $35 and no one wanted it. I then sold it to a local guy for trial and he did not like it and gave it back. Actually works somewhat OK now with the last update to the PC software that fixed a major issue. Took SIX months to get that issue solved. I complained about the issues so much on their FB page that the moderator banned me from the group. Said I was making threatening comments which was all BS. He even claimed that my post to sell the CS750 was a bogus post. Nope it was not. Even had the radio on eBay. No bids at $35 starting bid. So I guess I am just stuck with it, though I do not use it much. Mostly use it now to listen to what's left on FM fire/police and FM GMRS. Now that it somewhat works, is in great condition, if you want to buy it send $65 via Paypal. Contact me via the website if interested.

If you still want to buy a new Connect Systems radio, I suggest you buy it direct from Connect Systems. Some of the dealers for Connect Systems sell them at a premium. Their "value add" is programming the radio. Learn to program it yourself or get a code plug from someone else and just load it. Buy direct and save money. Jerry is nice guy and does provide good service. However he has to rely on Co-Value (the Communist Chinese manufacturer of his radios) to fix the firmware and PC software. Therein lies the problem.

In my opinion there are much better radios for DMR then Connect Systems that are now available. I especially like the Anytone radios. Yup, made in Communist China but they work very nicely and are at very competitive prices and have far less serious issues with the firmware. There are many quality vendors offering Anytone radios. BTW, the programming software is also so much easier to use and you do not need to have Excel in order to upload contacts to the radios, another drawback of Connect Systems.

As for Fusion, Yaesu has made their radios very affordable. Seriously, you can get a basic FM/C4FM Fusion radio for well under $175 for single band, and around $200 for dual band.

The thing that I believe stalled DStar adoption is that Icom kept the price of DStar radios too high for too long. Heck, they are still to highly priced in my opinion. I like DStar, but for hams wanting to try digital voice modes on VHF and above, DMR and Fusion are much more affordable.

This Summer I hit another milestone with VUCC getting over 175 grid squares. So I applied to the ARRL for the endorsement, but still waiting on my sticker. Some might not think that is a lot of grid squares, but my 6 Meter antenna is a dipole in the garage attic. Not too shabby I think. Last year actually made a contact with the Canary Islands with that set-up and I have it confirmed. Now that 6 Meters has pretty much shut down for the Summer, I have moved back to HF.

Started playing around with JS8 chat. Looks rather interesting. Might help get some young people interested as they love chat on their phones and tablets.

That's it for now. I will have to get more into updating the blog a bit more frequently. In the meantime, get on the radio and start talking.

Finally VUCC on 6 Meters

I finally was able to get the last few grid squares the other day to obtain a VUCC Award on 6 Meters. 

One thing about using the ARRL LoTW is that they turn the award around very fast. I applied yesterday and today it shows the award issued. The cost for applying the QSL credits was under $15. Now if I had to pay the postage to get paper QSLs, it would have been much more expensive. Really like LoTW.

Now to continue working more grid squares during the Summer E season and get the next endorsement.

VUCC - Getting Real Close

This past December was really good for E propagation. Moved from JT-65 to FT-8 which is much better for making contacts over JT-65 on the VHF/UHF bands. JT-65 was too slow as the band can change so quickly at the higher frequencies. In any case, as a result, I only need three more grid squares for VUCC. I can probably do it on ground wave, so if you are in reasonable proximity to Cincinnati, but outside of EM79, send me an email if you can arrange a schedule to try making a contact on 6 Meters with FT-8.

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.