Where Is D-Star Going?

D-Star was front and centre at Dayton this year.

On Friday morning, there was an D-Star workshop put on by the Georgia D-STAR group which went over the basics of how D-Star works and was well worth the time. Video from the workshop is coming online soon.

D-Star is a digital format that can be used simplex (radio to radio) or can involve a repeater (radio to repeater to other radios) and can also link repeaters and devices called reflectors (which can host lots of people on one channel).

I think I’ve got this right even though technically it might not be right on.

I also attended the Friday afternoon D-Star Forum at the Hara Centre which was on advances in D-Star technology.

To say I understood everything would be an overstatement but here’s what it comes down to: some of the guys in D-Star development want to introduce more human connection into this automated digital world.

So what does that mean?DH_FV-1-masked

I’m thinking we’re going to see a lot more integration of other technology like BlueTooth and smart phones and the D-Star network. We’re likely going to see multiple format platforms running that can accept any digital signal coming at it.

One really exciting development was a commercial product called the DHAP by Hardened Power Systems. Checkout the video on this site.

One issue that D-Star has made worse rather than better is now repeater trolls can be heard on 30 machines at the same time as opposed to one.

You may have heard a repeater troll. They live on the local machine and anytime you sign on they either offer a comment (usually without identifying) or they engage you in the same conversation you had yesterday and the day before with them. Sort of like Ham Radio’s version of Groundhog Day.

With D-Star, the repeater troll is now heard all across the system. When I was down in Dayton I was scanning the local D-Star repeaters and sure enough on two machines was the same repeater troll I hear at home.

Of course this is more of a social issue than a technological one but it the reason some people dropped the D-Star system in favour of other formats like Motorola’s DMR.

With more equipment being built for all the digital formats and with prices coming down we’re going to see a lot more activity everywhere. Remember these are early days.


Getting Ready For Dayton?

Yes we’re planning the annual pilgrimage to Dayton in May. wouxun-kg-uv8d

It’s a 7 1/2 hour drive from Toronto and this year we’ll drive down on the Wednesday so we can take in Four Days In May, which features the day-long series of QRP workshops on Thursday.

Friday is all day at the massive flea market (It takes a healthy mobile ham almost a day to work properly.) followed by dinner out and then Rod, VE3RHF, will probably hunt out some action at the digital forums (And you thought I was talking about going downtown didn’t you?)

Saturday it’s back to the flea market with a smattering of sitting down at the DX and Contesting forums held onsite. Saturday night is the amazing Contesting Dinner sponsored in the past by CQ Magazine and featuring a whole sack of door prizes.

Sunday morning we leave for arrival back in Toronto by late afternoon.

BTW the photo is of the soon-to-be-announced Wouxun KG-UV8D, dual-band VHF/UHF FM handie rumoured to sell for around $150!!!!!!!! That’s just a little more expensive than a new battery and charger for your old WT.

At $180 or so I’ve got my eye out for a Correct Systems CS700 DMR unit that works on the Motorola digital system.

D-Star QSO Party

Thanks to a D-Star conversation on REF001C this afternoon with Bill, VE3MEW, I learned that the annual D-Star contest is coming up in a could of weeks.

So get ready! The D-Star QSO Party is coming to the D-Star world from September 20 to 22 from Friday at 00:00 to Sunday 24:00 UTC.HomeDtl02

The goal of the contest is to communicate through as many D-Star repeaters as possible throughout the world.

Here’s the kicker: All operators who submit an approved log will be eligible for a draw prize draw. Ten winners will be randomly selected to win a prize. The more D-Star QSOs, the more chances there are to win (up to a maximum of four draw tickets).

To qualify for the draw you must make at least one contact through one repeater in your own country. If I read this correctly it means you’ve got to be in range of a D-Star repeater or, and I’m guessing here, you’ve got to point your DVAP or Dongle at a local D-Star repeater in order to qualify.product_photo

The weird thing about a D-Star contest is either the signal is 5X9 or it isn’t there at all so all reports will be 59 and the year you first started operating D-Star.

Honestly I think this will be a hoot and it will give me a break from the CQ WW SSB test.

Yum Yum Raspberry Pi

After purchasing a $35 Raspberry Pi computer to run my D-Star DVAP (and thus DSCF1185eliminating the need to use one of the regular computers here at VE3HG) I am always interested in other Raspberry Pi applications.

Here’s a neat one called How To Turn a Raspberry Pi into a Google Cloud Print Server. 

BTW thanks to Rod, VE3RHF, for not only programming the Raspberry Pi (see the SD card plugged into the left side of the mini computer) but for adding two spiffy looking cases.

I only had the standard cases but Rod knew I’d get around to publishing this photo so he upgraded the boxes. Thanks Rod.

I’ve been running the Raspberry Pi and DVAP dongle powered by a cellphone charger into the mini computer which has an Internet cable plugged into it and into my Internet hub.

Next goal is to find a wireless USB dongle so I can get rid of the cable and by adding a battery I could have a portable D-Star connection wherever there’s WiFi.

Is D-Star The New C.B?

Some of the conversations on REF001C, the most active reflector on the D-Star network, sure sound a lot like the conversations we used to have on CB about 40 years ago.

REF001 can be a pretty busy place with stations calling from all around the world. The good news, of course, is there are lots of other reflectors but 001 is the busiest by far.

Some of the conversations are great fun. I’ve talked to WS4FSM, the museum station in Florida which is on a lot during the week introducing Amateur Radio to visitors to the facility.

There’s lots of technical talk about Raspberry Pi computers and Dongles and all things digital. You can learn a lot just by listening in. Some guys are even DXing on D-Star.

This is great stuff but maybe we should stop and talk a lesson from the DX guys on 20 meters.

For example the other day we had a bunch of guys from Japan come on and some of the conversations were …how should I put this? …needed help.

So Sparky here are some thoughts to working some guy whose English is almost non-existent.

First remember he’s speaking English and you’re not speaking Japanese or French or Zay which is one of the 90 languages spoken in Ethiopia. So your English needs to adjusted so your new buddy stands a chance.

So slow up. A lot! Speak a little slower. Don’t use big words and for Heaven’s sake don’t use English idioms. Now that’s a pearl of wisdom for you.

Most international contacts start with callsign, name and qth. As you’re on digital you don’t need to give the guy a signal report unless he’s R2D2ing (which is a form of digital breakup caused by forward error correction having a tough time).

And don’t complain that he’s speaking a foreign language (as I heard one guy say). No it’s English, sort of, and you need to listen up.

After the preliminaries almost everyone asks about the other guy’s weather. Why weather? Because weather is something we all share and can complain or brag about. Next thing you might consider asking about his QTH or his rig or how long he’s been a ham.

Most of us know enough not to ask about the recent political situation or talk religion or other controversial subjects because in some countries offering an opinion on air about any of the above can get you locked in jail.

I can’t tell you how many digital QSos I’ve heard this week when the operator, who can probably program code for a quantum computer, doesn’t have enough people skills to make a basic exchange of information and actually sound interested in what the other guy has to say.

Digital communications offers unlimited opportunities for Hams from around the world to talk with each other but first you’ve got to exchange a few basic pieces of information.

For those of you who are seriously repressed read How To Win Friends and Influence People. It will make a big difference to your Ham Radio experience.

Now if we could just move this information over to 80 meters 🙂

If It Stays Up…

The old adage in Ham Radio is if it stays up longer than a year it’s not big enough.DSCF1180

So I raised the Diamond X-200 another five feet so now it’s 15 feet above the roof.

That’s it in the centre of the house. The antennas to the left on the tower at two square six-meter antennas.

I can hit Kitchener and Buffalo on 440 and expect even better results on 2 meters.

Can’t wait to see if the additional five feet adds any range to the DVAP dongle running 10 milliwatts.

If nothing else now it clears the TV antennas and if it stays up through the winter I’ll be pleased (and surprised).

More D-Star Walking

I took another walk from my home QTH near 4th Line and Rebecca in Oakville south  towards Lake Ontario.

With my DVAP dongle attached to the Diamond X-200 antenna on the roof of the house I was pretty much fully connected right to the lake which is about 1,000 meters south of me.

I could also access the dongle and hear (sort of) the REF001 reflector from the far west side of the park which is at least 1500 meters away as the crow flies and conditions were about the same at Lakeshore Blvd., and Third Line which is farther away by another 500 meters or so.

This is phenomenal range for a 10-mw dongle and I’m thrilled.

BTW the manufacturer states that an RF amp should not be used with the dongle as its spectrum quality may not (read is not) up to snuff. For running around the house or the yard it’s fine but it’s not a true hot spot that is using a clean full-size rig to amplify the signal.

Best conversation yet was a guy in England firing up his P.C. dongle before he goes on vacation tomorrow and his test call was answered by another guy in Australia on his way into work.

Think of what you can do with a digital hand-held when you go on vacation or to the Dayton Hamvention (which has its own reflector) so you can stay in touch with the guys back home or at the flea market.

There’s an infinite amount of room for everyone on digital.


D-Star Neighbourhood

In my enthusiasm last night I plugged my DVAP dongle into my PC computer and plugged in the Diamond X-200 antenna which is on the top of the roof of the house and I went for a walk with my IC-31A.DSCF1170

I had already checked out the range of the DVAP with its tiny two-inch antenna and I could easily communicate to it inside a 100-meter circle.

This is a lot farther away than I would have guessed the range to be so it’s a good thing the software allows you to decrease power if you want to keep your coverage just to your own property.

Anyway with rig in hand and both the standard six-inch whip and an extended 19-inch whip I set off to check the range with the X-200 and the dongle’s 10-milliwatt transmitter.

Best guess is I’m good out to about 1000 meters using the standard W/T antenna so I can go for my hour-long walk around the neighbourhood and never lose the DVAP connection.

The DVAP uses a USB cable to plug into either a Mac or PC and works seamlessly (as in photo where I’m using the Mac).

What the DVAP unit allows you to do is experiment with linking and unlinking reflectors without having to go “on air” to a local repeater where everyone locally can enjoy you screwing up as you’re learning.

The only “on air” part of the dongle system is from your hand-held to the DVAP and since you’re running simplex on some obscure part of the two-meter or 440 band and you’re running on super-low power out nobody is going to hear you.

The DVAP unit connects through your computer to the digital system (including D-Star, FreeStar and other systems) through the Internet and pops out where you’ve programmed it to go which can be an Internet-based reflector or actual RF-repeater anywhere in the world.

For example right now I am monitoring REF001C (the A,B or C at the end indicates which module or transmitter you’re hitting on a connected digital repeater. A is for the 23 cm transmitter. B is for the 70 cm box and C is for the 2m module) which is one of the busiest open chat reflectors. Stations from around the world can be heard hear all day long.

But REF001 isn’t the only reflector. There are a bunch of reflectors (well over 50) and they can be dedicated to specific uses or areas.

And the we come to linking and it’s here I am still reading blog posts and watching videos. 

Digital Amateur Radio communications using the D-Star and other systems is enormously powerful and holds great promise for the future of radio.

Think about it. Using a handheld and a DVAP from anywhere you can get an Internet connection  allows you to participate in a global communications system.

You can even use a cellphone to provide the Internet connection so anywhere you can get a cellphone to work as your Internet hotspot you can get your DVAP to connect to the digital system. How cool is that?

Another device, the DV Dongle, eliminates the need for a handheld. It connects directly to the digital system using your computer equipped with headphones and microphone.

Now some guys don’t understand the concept that Amateur Radio is all about experimenting and get themselves bent out of shape saying digital isn’t radio. (Think somebody said the same thing when we switched from AM to SSB.)

Well that might be true if you’re using a DV Dongle to access the system but somebody out there is going to come back to your call using his or her handheld or mobile rig so there is an “on air” part to all of this Internet switching and routing.

As to the cost of the equipment which is a continuous whine, I bought my IC-31A for under $300 which is not out of line compared to other handhelds and yes it’s UHF only but if you’ve been listening to your local VHF repeater you might consider that an advantage. 🙂

The DVAP is sold by Ham Radio Outlet in the US for $269.00 and yes there’s GST and shipping but that comes to about what it costs for the two-hour round trip to my local Amateur Radio store. It took US Post a week to get it here delivered to my door.

And if you’re like most hams and super cheap, you can convert many FM rigs that have a 9600 baud data port into a digital rig using a Raspberry Pi computer ($35) and a DMSK modem ($75 or so) and you’re on the air or in the system depending on how you look at it.

Digital VHF/UHF communications isn’t for everybody.

It’s complicated because we’re still getting stuff designed and marketed by engineers without the help of marketers and sales folks. That will come in time and everything will run at the push of a button and we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

But for now getting on digital is a challenge. It’s not a great challenge as evidenced by the fact that I did it and I’m not the sharpest tool in the toolbox.

Best of all, it’s a lot of fun. Talked to Jerry at the West Palm Beach ARC’s club station WS4FSM at the South Florida Science Museum. Jerry was doing a demonstration of digital radio for the staff and they were amazed that Jerry could talk to somebody in Ontario, Canada!


I Am Assimilated

Well I am on D-Star!
My DVAP dongle arrived about an hour ago and I was on the air almost instantly. Setting up the dongle on the Mac was dead-drop easy. Thanks to the terrific programming software from RT Systems I quickly reprogrammed my IC-31a to use my dongle as its primary point of contact to the digital system and then I waited.
For awhile there I was thinking that maybe I was just communicating with the dongle on a UHF simplex frequency and then suddenly WS4FSM came on calling CQ from Florida.
Using a simplex 440 frequency and about 10 mw of power both ways I walked out to the main road from my house which is easily 100 meters with absolutely no drop in signal strength until I got to the very end.
The DVAP was sitting on my work station table at ground level and the IC-31a was using its standard 6″ rubber duck antenna. Amazing!
As I listen I learn more and more. Like I connected to the reflector, in this case, REFOO1B using the memory allotment and then when the system prompt says “link connected” turn back to the radio’s T (for talk) memory allotment to avoid triggering the system prompt on each transmission.
Duh! I wouldn’t have known but for the conversation between two other new guys on the reflector.
The DVAP dongle couldn’t have worked better. It truly opens up the digital system especially if you’re running a handheld or if your local digital repeater is just a little too far away for reliable communications.
Working digital repeaters locally was a lot of fun but now thanks to the dongle I’m connected to the digital world (which is more than just Icom’s D-Star) and I’m very happy with the dongle.
Next trick is to plug it into the X-200 VHF/UHF antenna which is on the roof and maybe add in a Raspberry Pi computer 🙂

14.236 HF Digital

Well this changes everything.

You too can be on digital mode on HF right now. So why would you want to do this?

Well the bandwidth for digital HF mode is 1.5 KHz!!!d_star_diagram

Yes you read that right. Now the audio processing is pretty geeky but it’s a work in progress.

The signal to noise ratio makes this audio sound pretty good compared to SSB. In the accompanying video you’ll notice the operator is using a squelch control so now we can look forward to an FM-style communications on 20 meters! (14.236 MHz).

I wonder what this will do to HF communications? After all you can do digital with your standard HF rig using a sound card interface.

The video I’ve linked to is all about the DV access point dongle and it’s worth watching if you’re interested in digital communications on VHF/UHF.shapeimage_2

The DV access point dongle allows you to use your digital (likely a D-Star Icom as they are the only commercial manufacturer making digital rigs….right now) handie-talkie around the house while talking around the world.

D-Star (or FreeStar) repeaters work great but not every ham lives in range of a local repeater especially when it comes to accessing it using a handie-talkie. Here at VE3HG I can hit VE3PMO from my driveway using the handie but it’s not consistently good and I can’t reliably hold the Mississauga repeater.

My IC-880 can hit it easily and hold it from Guelph to Newmarket but the 880 is in the car again parked in the driveway.

So right now I need to hit VE3PMO and then I can use the repeater to link to other digital repeaters or reflectors (computers online which link to repeaters) anywhere in the world. Of course if I did this then everybody else on the repeater would have to wait until I finished listening around.

The DV access point dongle connects directly from my computer to the D-Star reflectors without having to go through a repeater. This is very cool the Dongle allows me to monitor or talk through the reflectors without tying up a local repeater and has a 10mw transmitter so I can use my handie to control the computer software interface to the D-Star system.shapeimage_2

There’s also a DV dongle that doesn’t even need a rig but attaches directly to your computer and using a headset connects you to the D-Star network and then to digital repeaters and reflectors.

Ordering my DV access point dongle for 440MHz so I can use my D-31a D-Star handie (bought for under $300 at Dayton) and work the world from my lawn chair.300px-RaspberryPi

BTW many two meter or 440 FM rigs that have a 4800 baud port can be used to work digital repeaters using a computer (or $35 Raspberry Pi mini-computer) and a GMSK modem (less than $100) and you’re on digital.