When I recently started back into ham radio I was really excited about the VHF/UHF digital modes that are linked to the internet. The promise here is you can talk with your friends across the country on your local repeater. Or you can keep in touch with your friends from your home repeater while in another country. However, there is a bunch going on that makes it hard for people to get there heads around the digital modes and which radio to get.
The first mode we will take a look at is DMR (Digital Mobile Radio). DMR is an open standard and gained popularity with commercial applications with companies like Motola. The radio uses talk groups (TG) and there are tons to chose from.
Since DMR really got it start in the commercial world where companies would take orders for organizations and configure several radios at once and configure the talk groups for those radios. Once the radios made it to the HAM space, this programming became more difficult.
To program a DMR radio, typically, you need a code plug. Once you have made a code plug, you can use it to easily program hundreds of radios. This does not lend itself to HAM radio operations in emergency operations.
There is a major plus to this technology. While you can get expensive Motorola and Hytera radios, most are inexpensive radios made in China like the TYT. In fact, the MD-380 is under a hundred dollars and is almost the standard in HAM radio for DMR.
- Cheap radios are available
- Voice quality is good on DMR radios
- VERY active community
- Code plug downloads are made available by many repeater operators
- Code plugs can be hard to make for people who are new
- Mostly UHF repeaters so range is an issue
D-Star was designed for HAM radio in the late 90s by the Japanese Amature Radio League. D-Star is the first digital radio mode that was specifically developed for amateur radio. Currently, the radio options are limited to Icom and Kenwood being the only radios using D-Star at the moment. D-Star uses reflectors that that repeaters can link to. The user can transfer a repeater to a reflector to temporarily communicate on that reflector.
Since the radios used in D-Star primarily made by high-end companies, they are of great quality. Most are extremely simple to program and easy to use in emergency operations. However, in some locations, it can be hard to find a repeater for D-Star since they are expensive.
D-Star also has messaging and data abilities. You can send pictures to people using D-Star as well as set up a radio-based network. All of this makes D-Star really attractive option. Lets also not forget that the voice quality is amazing as well.
- Great audio quality
- Lots of reflectors
- designed for amateur radio
- Quality of radios very good
- Expensive when compared to DMR
- Few radio manufacturers
This one is the newest playing in this space. It was created by Yeasu and is currently only offered on their devices. This is not as bad as it might seem since they have lower cost units. This makes access to this technology much more approachable. Than D-Star at the moment.
There are some major drawbacks. One is that since it is new there are fewer users on the reflectors. However, I think this is changing quickly since Yeasu is pushing and several repeaters in my area are switching over quickly. The other problem is that while they will implement the Fusion/C4FM portion they are not implementing the Wires-x and that limits the ability to reach and link with other repeaters.
The major pluses here is the data speed and voice quality. I think these sound phenomenal! The modes also auto switch from DV to FM as needed.
- Inexpensive radios available
- Growing fast, but not DMR fast
- Great data speeds
- Great voice quality
- Designed for HAM radio
- Not as many repeaters available today
- Some are not connected to wires-x
- Only one company making radios
These newer digital modes make it easy to talk worldwide for people with a just general license with outstanding voice quality. The downsides are what to choose. Currently, my hope is that Yeasu/Fusion/Wires-x will take off more than it has, but I still have an Icom with D-Star as my main radio.
The best thing to do is buy what you have the most repeaters around you. You might also get a hotspot to augment the repeaters. This basically makes a small lower powered reporter that will follow you. I might decide to do a hotspot comparison later.