D-STAR Discussion on QRZ.COM

As usual with many topics, there is a lively debate about D-STAR on qrz.com. Unfortunately, there seems to be a bunch of folks that hang out on qrz just to be negative on any new ideas. Here’s the easy-to-read summary of the qrz.com discussion. (I am saving you the trouble of wading through all the QRM.)

VE7TKO (a vocal proponent of D-STAR) starts the discussion with:

D-STAR is probably the greatest advancement ever seen in ham radio to date. D-STAR stands for “Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur Radio”.

Then the opposition comes screaming in:

Objection Number 1: D-STAR is proprietary, not an open standard.

Reality: Not True…D-STAR is an open standard. The system has been developed in collaboration with and is owned by JARL (Japan Amateur Radio League).

Objection Number 2: The commercial / land mobile standard APCO-25 is the way to go, not D-STAR.
Reality: APCO-25 was developed for police/fire/public safety radio. It may be applicable to ham radio use, but D-STAR was designed specifically for amateur use. Amateur radio has a history of adopting commercial standards but it is not clear that APCO-25 will win out over D-STAR.

Objection Number 3: D-STAR isn’t the essence of ham radio, more like a cellphone system.
Reality: It depends on how you define the essence of ham radio. I see it as applying new technology in interesting and useful ways. An open mind is a wonderful thing. 🙂

Objection Number 4: The Internet is bad for ham radio, so connecting the Internet to ham radio is even worse.
Reality: Changes in technology outside of ham radio will continue to affect ham radio. Example: There was a time when we had no computers, now they are common. Ham radio was obviously affected by this new technology (for the better, I argue). To expect new, relevant technologies to not influence ham radio is kind of silly.

Objection Number 5: This system tracks your position for everyone to see. Sounds like “Big Brother” to me.
Reality: Ever heard of APRS? Don’t turn on the feature and you’ll be fine.

Objection Number 6: Only ICOM has D-STAR radios, so it is a one vendor solution.
Reality: Good point. If D-STAR is going to get widely adopted other manufacturers must join in. Kenwood is rumored to be introducing a D-STAR radio.

Objection Number 7: I don’t see the clear, compelling benefit to using D-STAR.
Reality: Another good point. It is still fuzzy how the average Joe Ham will benefit from D-STAR. Meanwhile, some of the technie hams are experimenting with new D-STAR systems.

Objection Number 8: D-STAR radios cost more than analog FM radios.
Reality: Yes, for now anyway. The price will have to come down for it to be successful, which is common for new technologies.

For more information on D-STAR see http://www.icomamerica.com/amateur/dstar/dstar2.asp

New Rocky Mt Division QRP Record in June VHF QSO Party

The results are in for the 2005 ARRL June QSO Party (“the June VHF contest”). I already knew that I acheived my personal best for the QRP category in that contest, but I also set a new Rocky Mt Division record and placed 5th overall.

From the ARRL web site:

With the growth of the Single-operator QRP portable category, there are several new section records. John, K6MI put a 10 band station together and amassed 94K points to win first place in this category and set an SJV section and Pacific Division record. Chris, KA1LMR, in second place, doubled his previous top score from 1992 to set a NH section record with 77K in a 6 band effort. Gary, N7IR placed third with 31K while Robin, W6DWI was in 4th place with 18K from ORG and Bob, K0NR captured 5th place and a Rocky Mountain Division and section record with 16K from CO.

My comments and a few photos can be found here in the “soap box” page at arrl.org.

What’s So Important About Amateur Radio?

Why is ham radio important and why should the general public care? The ARRL put together a great web page that addresses this topic, suitable for reading by the general public.

From the ARRL web site:

Traditionally, trained volunteer Amateur Radio operators have provided communication support services to government and private relief agencies in times of major local and national disaster. Amateur Radio operators are organized through two primary organizations: Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), and Radio Amateur Civil Emergency Services (RACES). In addition to assisting local authorities and emergency relief operations with radio communication services, amateurs also organize “health and welfare” networks to relay messages from victims in the affected area to loved ones in other locations.

Amateur Radio emergency communications in the wake of the World Trade Center terrorist strike made the country aware of the emergency communications Amateur Radio operators have been providing for decades. See World Trade Center and Pentagon terrorist attacks. Even before the WTC attack, ARRL was already working on preparations for the Amateur Radio Emergency Communications Courses which help train Amateur Radio operators as how to best use their skills in emergencies through the ARRL Certification and Continuing Education Programs. These courses have trained thousands of amateurs. This is why the Department of Homeland Defense called Amateur Radio operators the “first of the first responders“. ARRL is now an official affiliate of the Citizen Corps, an initiative within the Department of Homeland Security to enhance public preparedness and safety.

Complete text can be found here.

ARES acknowledged in Electronic Design magazine

Electronic Design magazine, one of the leading trade magazines for electronics professionals, published an editorial about how the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES), the ARRL and ham radio came through after the distruction of hurricane Katrina.

– 73, Bob K0NR

Amateur radio was the primary means of contact with the outside world for many shelters. It’s estimated that some 1000 amateur radio volunteers helped serve the hurricane-ravaged communities and shelters, even providing communications for the Red Cross.

Still, the real lesson of the ham radio successes isn’t that old sometimes trumps new. Upgraded, reliable hardware is vital for adequate emergency response. Amateur radio has continued to upgrade too. Hams use satellites, digital systems, cross-band repeaters, and more. As the American Radio Relay League (ARRL) puts it, the Morse code key may still be on the desk, but generally it’s next to a modern system operable under extreme emergency conditions.

Use FRS Radios for Emergencies ?

Eric Knight, KB1EHE has proposed that Family Radio Service (FRS) transceivers become the backup emergency communications tool for the general citizenry. In a press release, he suggests using FRS Channel 1 on 462.5625 MHz as the standard “SOS” frequency. I think the idea has merit, as long as people clearly understand the limits of an FRS radio. Specifically, the typical range is only a few miles and a single channel could easily be overloaded during an emergency. — Bob K0NR

HARTFORD, Conn.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Oct. 5, 2005–In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it’s become clear that a major contributing factor to the tragic loss of life was the near total breakdown of communication systems. Once electricity, telephone, and cell phone services failed, people were unable to let rescuers know of their dire situations — and died as a result.

A simple, instant, and virtually zero-cost solution: “Establish a National SOS Radio Network (www.NationalSOS.com),” says Eric Knight, CEO of UP Aerospace, Inc. (www.upaerospace.com). “There are millions of ‘Family Radio Service’ or ‘FRS’ radios already in use by the public for camping, boating, and hiking, and there are 675,000 licensed ham radio operators in America — people renown and prepared for emergency communications. The output frequencies of FRS radios are easily received by the radio gear ham radio operators use daily. That’s the magic link in this emergency communication strategy.”

Digital Voice Modes for VHF/UHF Ham Radio

Ham radio already makes use of many digital modes such as RTTY, PSK31, AX.25 Packet, etc. Another wave coming is a true digital voice mode, especially for the VHF and higher bands. Currently, most of the activity on the VHF and higher bands is FM (or SSB), both analog modulation. Virtually all of the mobile phone formats have gone digital and good old analog FM is being phased out. Many land mobile users such as police and fire radio are also moving to digital. I suspect it is a question of when (not if) ham radio VHF/UHF will go digital.

The two competing formats emerging in the ham radio world are D-STAR and APCO 25. D-STAR is a digital radio standard developed by the Japanese government under the direction of the JARL. ICOM is the leading proponent of D-STAR and has several transceivers and repeaters available that conform to the standard. The ICOM web site has the best information on using D-STAR. The ARRL recently did a review of a few ICOM D-STAR products in QST.

Any new technology has to overcome the fear that it won’t be broadly adopted and will die an early death. One concern is that only ICOM has D-STAR radios in the market today. Recently, there have been sightings of a D-STAR radio from Kenwood, which could indicate momentum behind the D-STAR standard. The ARRL has also reported activity from Kenwood on D-STAR transceivers.

APCO 25 is the digital radio standard aimed at police/fire/emergency responders developed by the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) International. APCO calls this format “Project 25” or P25, which is described here. Some hams argue that hams should once again follow the tradition of adopting commercial/land mobile developed standards for ham use. There is merit to this argument as the VHF/UHF FM gear is based on commercial standards. Even today, many repeaters are made up of commercial gear deployed on the ham bands.

Which is better, a standard developed for amateur radio use or one that leverages off commercial standards and technology? The debate is on in the various online ham forums. (Don’t expect consistently brilliant discussion of the topic.) VE7TKO has been a vocal supported of D-STAR on eham.net digital forum and qrz.com.

Stay tuned. This will be a hot topic in the years to come. And it will probably take years for digital to overtake analog….the installed base is just too large and it will take time for it to convert over.