The DV MEGA Project

Interesting stuff for D-Star lovers: Guus PE1PLM is in the process of dismantling the D-Star protocol in order to create the first Open Source D-Star transceiver.

DV MEGA

He writes:

The goal of the DV-MEGA project is to develop a KIT for a dual-band D-Star transceiver.
Because this can’t be done overnight different modules will be available all based on the D-Star stream. The D-Star steam is common to a DV-node adapter, radio hotspot and transceiver.

Project related documents and software will be available for download on this site under GNU GPL license. The whole project is open-source and free for everyone to copy or adapt to your own needs.

You can follow his progress at http://dvmega.eu.pn/, or communicate with Guus on the pcrepeatercontroller Yahoo group.

D-Star still marginal?

d-star_logoI always wondered how many ham radio operators use D-Star. Now I know: according to the organizers of a D-Star forum at Dayton Hamvention 2013 there are now slightly more than 25.000 registered D-Star users around the world. Quote:

“D-STAR continues to grow in popularity with over one thousand interconnected gateways and over twenty-five thousand registered users. The last year has seen new hardware and software offerings that continue to expand the capabilities of this already feature rich protocol. The speakers for this forum will review the things you might have missed in the last year and announce some exciting new hardware and software.”

A large portion of those 25.000 users doesn’t use airwaves at all, but use a (cheaper) dongle instead. Personally I would not hesitate to take dongle users out of the equation, but let’s not be too picky today.

Time to put all of this into perspective. There are now an estimated 3.2 million licensed ham radio operators in the world (source: IARU). This translates into 0.78% of them using D-Star. That isn’t much.

So, is D-Star still marginal? Apparently so. However, acceptance of new technologies always takes time. Some potential users couldn’t care less about digital modes, some don’t like the hefty price tag. Then there’s competition in the form of cheap (sometimes really cheap!) DMR radios. Digital is here to stay.

I’m waiting for someone to link all popular digital technologies and make them available to anyone with (for example) an Echolink account. Now that would be cool.

Second D-Star Info Day, Almere

Yesterday the local Dutch D-Star guys organized a second information session in my home town. Contrary to the first meeting, when only the basics were discussed, this information evening was 100% in-depth. The inner workings of networks were discussed, as well as the various systems D-Star relies on. Both William PE1BZF and Rutger PA3CQJ did an excellent job explaining how it works, but also what can go wrong and why.

Rutger PA3CQJ talks, the crowd listens.

Complexity
Yes, D-star can be complex. Just when you thought you knew it all, you have to deal with providers, networks, servers, repeaters, hot spots, routers, switches, firewalls or port forwarding and triggering. Forgetting antenna theory for a while and diving into the world of bits and bytes can be challenging. If you thought that creating a good ham radio station could drive you crazy, try D-Star! Fortunately there’s always (analog) help at hand, and thanks to them you will end up being an expert yourself.

William PE1BZF explaining the inner workings of networks.

Future
In spite of the fact that many think (including me) that merging two technologies waters down the essence of Ham Radio, I think D-Star is here to stay. Maybe, 50 years from now, we will look back at pictures such as the one below, and think “Yes, I remember, these are the guys who started it all.” Want to stay informed? Visit the website of PE1GDF, D-StarAlmere.nl.

Remember those D-star Info Days in Almere?

A taste of D-star

Lots of hams showed up

Yesterday evening I visited a meeting in my home town, Almere, organized by D-star enthusiasts. Personally I don’t care much about D-star (yet), but that doesn’t mean I’m not interested. After all, it’s an extension of our hobby. It proved to be an interesting evening, with lots of room to get questions answered, and enough time for some hands-on experience.

Murphy’s law
When you want to demonstrate something, convinced that everything will work perfectly, Mr. Murphy will often pay you a visit. Although there was an internet connection in the cafe, no connection could be made. It’s one of the disadvantages of digital communication – if your service provider is down, or won’t allow you to change parameters in a firewall, your system is dead in the water. The same applies to technologies such as Echolink.

Hams are creative people by nature, so the problem was solved quickly by converting an iPhone into an access point.

PA2TSL trying to decode a D-star station

Equipment
All current hardware was present: USB dongles, mobile transceivers, handhelds, a bunch of computers and even a working repeater. I made a few QSO’s with stations in New Zealand and a mobile station in Canada. It worked fine, with no packet loss at all, but I have to get used to the audio quality. Compression ratio is high, and it shows.

It’s a reminder that the word ‘digital’ doesn’t mean a thing when it comes to image or audio quality. It just depends on the codecs used, and the available bandwidth you have at your disposal. The background noise (some hams were real chatterboxes!) didn’t make reception easier either, haha!

Pricing
When it comes to adopting D-star, pricing proved to be the biggest hurdle. D-star equipment is quite expensive, too expensive for some. This the reason for D-star picking up slowly in the Netherlands.

Some more pictures (click for larger version)