Are Radio Manufacturers Trying to Kill Off Digital?

First things first, let me say thank you to the Chinese vendors out there. Why in the world would I ever say that? In 1999, I bought my first mobile radio for about $200, which is not bad. I bought my first handy talky for $250 and it was a single band, 2 watt transmit, and only 10 memories. That was considered the El Cheapo model and it was still $250.

Skip ahead 17 years, and manufactures like Baofeng, TYT, and Wouxun all have good little HT’s, like them or not, for $40-$100 and do so much more. The closest thing I can find from Yaesu is $160. Yaesu’s are not throw away radios, but the Chinese radios have gotten to that point also. My UV-5R is now 2.5 years old, recently took a swim in the dogs water bucket, and still works like day one.

Why do I think the big Amateur radio manufactures either just do not get it, or they deliberately price their digital technology stupid high?

Let me start back when I was first introduced to digital radio. Right after I joined the HurstARC as a new member, the president at the time was pushing hard for Yaesu’s Fusion. I can not really blame him since they offered a 50w digital repeater for $500. That is a heck of a price. I knew of DSTAR, but Fusion seemed to be the future, since it was the new guy in town, and so I invested in two, that is TWO, Fusion FTM-400DR radios. Those two radios were priced at $600 each. My best friend bought two also, plus a DR2 Fusion HT for $600 also, and so many others the same.

It looked like Fusion was going to take off. I was wrong. They released their equipment, very handicapped equipment let me say. The features they promised just was not there, and would not even appear on the market for another year-and-a-half, and when they did, it just was not up to snuff. Now Yaesu did release a couple of cheaper Fusion radios, one was under $200, but it was for the 2m band only. Around DFW, most digital communications are on 70cm.

DSTAR has been around for a long time, has a pretty decent infrastructure system still, and the basic mobile radios only start at $300 and the HT’s start at $400 [11/11/16]. I am not made of money, as with many, and $300 is still a lot of money. Yes I did buy TWO $600 radios, and now regret it, but that does not mean that money flows freely in Cotterville.

Kenwood recently announced and released the TM-D74A. This is a beautiful radio. I had the chance to play with one in person. It is FM and incorporates DV (digital voice) with DSTAR, for whatever their reasoning is. Kenwood quality is there for the low low price of $650. That price tag will keep 99% of those wanting DV away.

Why did I start with complimenting the Chinese radio makers? Now that I have bought into Fusion and regret it (one of the radios being broken somehow), I also have an amazing performing Tytera MD380, DMR HT. How much did this HT cost me? $120, price has dropped to around $95 now I have heard. I was happy to lay down $120 for a Chinese made, but great, radio. If I ended up not liking DV, I could throw this in a box and not feel bad about it at that price point.

The big manufacturers basically make you gamble on their DV products, all or nothing, whether it will stick around or anyone will even care about it. DSTAR has been around for a long time and has a decent, but not-really growing user base. Fusion has a user base, and from what I have been able to see, not growing, possibly even declining user base.

This post is not an pro-DMR, anti-Fusion, anti-DSTAR post. It is my ranting about these manufactures making great equipment, but then pricing so high, that general digital adoption from hams just will not happen. I think that is where the Chinese radio makers will end up dominating. When DMR first started up in amateur radio, you had pretty much one or two choices, Motorola or Hytera. Both companies make excellent equipment, then sell it for $750+ for an HT and mobiles, very basic mobiles, started at $600.

Connect Systems (American company, Chinese maker) released a DMR mobile for $279 and their HT for $229. Tytera released their MD-380 for $179 originally, now down to about $100, and they are selling them so fast many dealers can not keep them in stock.

Other than it is just plain fun, I am convinced that the reason DMR has taken off like it has (4,600 new users/ID’s in two months) in the past two years, is because people are willing to spend $100-200 and see what DV is all about. The big four manufactures just keep hammering nails into their own feet, thinking they are doing us a favor, but in reality, they are holding amateur radio back from moving on to the next generation of operating.

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Embracing the Open Source Lifestyle in Amateur Radio

I have been a Linux user and fan for approximately fourteen years. Not quite as long as being radio operator. I do believe in the open source way and that flows into my radio life also. I got into DMR about six month ago. I LOVE it. It is growing as more-and-more ham embrace and learn about it. It is great.

Fusion is OK. I think Yaesu screwed the pooch on the delivery of their promises, but it exist, and I also think that most of those that bought into C4FM Fusion, have already bought into it due to cost. The technology is solid, but very expensive. I have been trying to find out for a while if it is truly an open standard or if it is a licensed technology if you want to develop hardware for it. Turns out it is a licensed technology. I have a feeling that it will go along the path of D-STAR where it is there, but it is not extensively used. [My opinion anyways]

Getting back to DMR, I have been trying to do my part in getting new users involved and help them get setup. Whether my efforts contribute or not, I do not know, but from January 15th – 30th, 2016, about 1600 new subscriber ID’s came online. That is some rapid growth. Each month, I publish a new codeplug for both the Tytera MD-380 and the Connect Systems CS800. Where am I going with this rambling? I have spent hours and hours [and hours] creating codeplugs for both of these radio models, and freely share them with anyone that wants to use them. All you have to enter your callsign and subscriber ID into the codeplug using the software provided.

The Tytera is a simple little radio that does not take much effort to modify the codeplug now that it is built and clean. On my file share, you can find the codeplug, ContactManager.exe, the illusive manual and the latest firmware.

The CS800 is quite a bit more complex and has a much more complex codeplug. It has been built out completely and updated regularly. All you have to do is enter in your callsign and subscriber ID into the codeplug using the software before uploading into your radio.

What does this have to do with open source now that I have said this. I have built these codeplugs and share them with you to use and change if you want. If you change them and feel like sharing back, feel free to let me know. I am open to sharing all of my codeplugs.

All of the files I modify and upload can be found here:

https://kd5hiy.us/operating/dmr/

If you want to use the CS800 codeplug, PLEASE read the README file to know what you are getting. The Tytera MD380 codeplug is simple enough. Both have the repeaters for DFW, OKC, TUL, and LIT written in.

Enjoy and I hope to hear you on the air sometime.

Chris, KD5HIY

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Our Digital World

We live in a digital world. No doubt about that. Amateur radio is no exception. I am accustomed to Yaesu’s Fusion. It is basically a digital version of analog. It works the same pretty much, with a few exceptions, but for the most part once you know what the digital modes are, you can just flip between them.

My club, the W5HRC Hurst Amateur Radio Club, has invested in Fusion. We now have two of the Yaesu DR-1X repeaters. One has been in testing for about 9 months, just trying to interface it with different controllers and other methods of control. We have had decent success with them, but with the poor documentation on Yaesu’s end, a lot of what we have done is trial and error.

I like Fusion, and hopefully Yaesu will continue to build the technology out to everything they say they it can and will do. Time will tell on that part. The radios are solid, full featured, and occasionally a little quirky, but for about 99.9% of the time, no issues at all.

I recently stepped in to DMR. I was once one of the DMR nay-sayers that thought it was just outdated and a wannabe amateur radio standard. I was completely ignorant of the technology and was part of the crowd that essentially shunned it.

Three weeks ago at one of our weekly club meetups, I asked Jason, KC5HWB, about DMR. I was interested in learning about other technologies than just Fusion, including DMR and even D-Star. There I go again poking at D-Star, when it is a solid standard also that I know nothing about. I know better than to do that. Jason was our only resident DMR using member at the time, so he essentially gave an impromptu lecture on how DMR worked.

Talk groups, time slots, subscriber ID’s, Nationwide, Metro, WWe? This was all new. I decided I would invest a bit into some DMR equipment to see what it is all about. I purchased a Tytera MD380 HT from him.

As the president of the Hurst Amateur Radio Club, one of the most important things I push is elmering. License all that you want, but if the current amateur radio generation fail to elmer the new generation, the new generation will leave, and amateur radio will eventually die as an art. I have been a HAM for sixteen years at the time of this post, but even seasoned and experienced hams need to be elmered by those who know.

I say this because Jason has been my elmer in the DMR world for the past few weeks. He has been very patient with me. I am trying to absorb as much information as I can, so I can eventually elmer newcomers to digital, whether that is DMR, D-Star, Fusion, P25, etc.

OK, now all of that said, amateur radio digital is VERY polarized. You are either a Fusion, DMR, or D-Star person, me included until recently. Not much wiggle room for anything else. The more I learn about each of the digital technologies, the more I understand that they are not so much competitors, but designed for different types of use.

Guys on Fusion talk about how Fusion is the best and should be the standard. Guys on DMR talk about how DMR is the best and should be the standard. Same goes with D-Star I would imagine.

In a high level overview, Fusion seems to be an Echolink type of system that is backwards compatible with analog FM. DMR is for interlinking. All DMR repeaters are linked and when you key one, you key them all. They each serve a purpose, and I think there is enough room for them all, depending on what you are going to use it for.

All this said, I enjoy both Fusion and DMR. I might try D-Star one day, but right now it is just so expensive, it is out of my price range and there are no D-Star repeaters local that I can hit without being on 45 watts ERP. Fusion is not exactly cheap also, but it is cheaper than D-Star. DMR on the other hand is relatively cheap. The Tytera radio I purchased was $170 for everything needed including programming cable and software. A comparable Fusion HT sells for nothing less than $279 plus cables and programming software. Long term, cost will be the ultimate decider of what digital standard will reign supreme and which ones will eventually fade away. I love digital in amateur radio, and I hope it does not go away.

By the way, my DMR subscriber ID is 3148261 and I like DFW Metro and Statewide during drivetime and North America during the day.

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