These are some of the misconceptions people have about D-star.
D-Star doesn’t work without the internet. False. First off D-Star can operate simplex or point-to-point like we use at hamfests to tell our friends about a hot deal we’ve spotted for them. It can also function like an analog repeater re-transmitting signals using a specific frequency pair. Now here’s where the internet comes in. Since these are digital signals they can be routed through gateways attached to the internet to communicate to other D-Star repeaters around the world.
D-Star isn’t radio. False. This is similar to point number one but I hear it all the time. If you’re talking into a microphone connected to a radio with an antenna attached to it then you’re using a radio. Period. This is D-Star. And yes there is a device that hooks to your computer called a DV dongle and it relies solely on the internet using your computer for the microphone and speaker. This is actually a pretty cool device when you’re traveling so when you’re in a hotel you can work your home repeater anywhere in the world. While this D-Star device connects directly to the internet it also connects you to repeaters that transmit RF.
D-Star is just too “computery” for me. I don’t want to mess around with computers. I just like to pick up my microphone and start talking to people. Hmmmm. I’ll bet you use a computer for logging contacts or maybe controlling your HF radio. Actually if I put an analog and D-Star mobile radio next to each other and asked you pick out the D-Star radio you couldn’t tell the difference because they both have, a microphone.
D-Star is proprietary since ICOM is the only radio manufacture selling it. False. The D-Star format was developed by the JARL as an open standard protocol. This means any radio manufacture can build D-Star radios. The only part of D-Star that is proprietary is the digital codec or the Ambi digital encoder chip. But if you want to go down that road I can open up any analog radio and show you custom chips they use as well. Kenwood and Yaesu could have built D-Star radios but they chose not to take the gamble. ICOM took the gamble and they are now reaping the rewards. With the success of ICOM these other manufactures are now looking to develop their own formats to get into the digital radio business. This is unfortunate and will only confuse hams since the D-Star format is already a very popular digital standard.
D-Star is too expensive. Sort of, with two thoughts. If Yaesu and Kenwood would simply humble themselves and build a D-Star radio giving ICOM some competition then prices would come down. I agree that $600 for a dual band analog/digital HT is expensive. However on the flip side we’ve been conditioned to think that a dual band HT should cost $50 with all the Baofengs being dumped on the market from China. Try pricing a Japanese dual band HT for a better real world price comparison. Also remember a D-Star radio does digital and analog so it should cost more. You do get what you pay for. Here’s an example of an economical way to get into D-Star. If you own an analog transceiver with a built-in serial port connector such as a Kenwood TM-D710, An ICOM IC-7000 or a Yaesu FT-857 you can buy a $100.00 PCBA that will install between this radio and your PC with a USB cable. This is one example of the many non ICOM D-Star ideas being created because of the nature of this open standard. D-Star is exploding and I’m looking forward to seeing all the new ideas at Dayton.
I’ve heard D-Star audio and when the signal gets weak I can’t understand anything at all. It sounds like R2D2 from Star Wars. That is true but in side-by-side test comparisons between and an analog and a D-Star radio with the same power, same antenna and the same distance the D-Star radio was more readable than the analog radio. The difference is that when an analog radio signal gets weak it fades gracefully into the noise floor. When the D-Star signal gets weak it starts breaking up and this sound can be a bit jarring.
This D-Star stuff takes up a lot of bandwidth on the ham bands. False. Because the D-Star digital signal is compressed it takes up only 6.25 KHz vs. 25 KHz for a wide band FM signal. If some of the dormant analog repeaters were switched to digital there could be almost 4 times as many frequencies available for the space taken up by one analog FM signal. I’m not promoting this idea but in densely populated areas where frequency pairs aren’t as available this would be a good solution.
I don’t like D-Star because it will replace analog. False. Both formats can and do co-exist. Remember before FM came along on VHF and UHF there was only AM. Keep this in the back of your mind with regard to D-Star as it grows more popular over time.
Why do I have to register my call sign to use D-Star. I don’t have to do that with analog. When you register your call sign with the D-Star network the second you transmit the whole world knows you are on the air. This is handy when you want to find your other D-Star friends. There is also another function called call sign routing that allows you to work your home repeater through another D-Star repeater as you travel. If you are only using your D-Star radio simplex then registration is not required. Registration has its benefits because every time you key your mike your call sign appears on all the D-Star radios listening to that frequency. Personally I think this accountability keeps jammers away. Remember those anonymous crank phone calls we would get before caller ID came along? I know, now we have the telemarketers calling but at least we know who is now calling so we can elect to ignore the call.
The Audio on D-Star just sounds funny to me. Sort of true. Digital audio is compressed and as such is not as full sounding as wideband FM. However after listening to it for a while you learn to appreciate the quietness between words and the overall clarity. Occasionally some users of D-Star sound like they are underwater or are very muffled. These are usually hams using their computers to get on D-Star and their computers have very poor quality microphones. I recommend for those using their computers for D-Star to use a quality headset with a quality mike. If you use the standard hand mike on the radio you’ll sound great.
In conclusion, say yes to D-Star. Whenever something new comes along we tend to resist change. Then after we use it for a while we wonder how we lived without it. Remember that new thing called the Internet! I encourage everyone to learn more about D-Star by attending one of the free D-Star seminars being held every so often or talk to a D-Star user to experience it first hand. My hope is when you hear derogatory comments about D-Star you’ll now know the other side of the story. The nature of ham radio is learning and experimenting so keep an open mind as fresh ideas come along advancing our hobby.
David J. Holmgren