WA4ZKO's QSL Card
I’m a repeater sysop myself and know many others. The going trend across the country is that most analog repeaters set silent 99% of the time. I can’t count the number of sysops that have told me they are going to run current gear till a major repair comes up, then it will fade away. Even SERA had an article in their journal magazine about “where have the users gone” not so long ago.
So? Conventional repeaters are fading away one by one due to lack of activity. I just don’t see that the introduction of DSTAR repeaters is going to change this trend. We’ll just have more repeaters, even more expensive to install/maintain, setting around idle most of the time. Sure, you might get a burst of usage in the beginning that quickly fades as the “new” factor wears off. DSTAR has been around for several years now…nearly a decade?
I find it interesting that only ICOM offers DSTAR gear and none of the other manufacturers have joined in after all these years. Plus when you factor in the poor quality of most ICOM gear of late, not good. In fact I gather DSTAR gear sales have been so poor they recently started all kinds of promotions. The only DSTAR system in my area is, interestingly, heavily sponsored (read subsidized) by the local ham radio gear dealer and ICOM.
I’m also disturbed by the misinformation (outright lies at times) and exaggerations often used by the DSTAR crowd when it comes to “is this a repeater or not,” and the comparisons with APCO25.
Then to build this on another proprietary CODEC is, IMHO, a big mistake. Why reinvent the wheel when a well defined digital standard already exists. It would of been much wiser to use a interoperable standard (ah, APCO25 anyone).
Yeah, I know the codec is still proprietary JUST LIKE DSTAR’s. At least this would offer INTEROPERABILITY options for those that want to have commercial/ham channels in one rig..legally. Plus it would allow hams a great deal of choice in terms of obtaining commercial grade gear to be used for the repeaters…just like we do today with analog repeater hardware. ICOM’s repeaters have never been known to be a very good value and reliable.
From what I’ve seen of it, DSTAR would be an administrative nightmare to use in a typical real world emergency. This is especially so if you’ve got users coming in from out of the area to assist and they are not already setup on the system. Not to mention the potential for system failure with such a setup. The audio quality of DSTAR leaves a lot to be desired in comparison to just about any P25 radio I’ve used. The P25 commercial gear is unarguably much more durable than ICOM’s toys anymore.
In many cases, APCO25 gear can do both analog and digital. DSTAR repeaters (sorry, a repeater is a repeater) are digital only. Yes, the mobiles/handhelds can do analog FM and DSTAR, but not the repeaters. Granted you probably wouldn’t want to be doing both on the same system on a daily basis, but it’s a nice fall back option to have there. AKA, flexibility.
Before someone comments that APCO25 locks you in to Motorola gear, it just isn’t so. You can buy all kinds of APCO25 gear from a multitude of manufacturers. APCO is a public safety group that defined the standard, a standard created with a lot of thought towards the future, interoperability, and preventing vendor lock in. We hams don’t know it all and could learn a lot from today’s communications leaders and pros.
Most hams are just glorified appliance operators anymore. That’s not always a bad thing, everyone is in the hobby for their own reasons. Problem is that many need to learn just how far behind the rest of the communications world we are. A great example was the hoopla created when SERA tried to get the 2m repeater owners to adopt PL tones (something public safety adopted decades ago). Yeah, the way SERA went about it didn’t help, but to read the rational behind the resistance to it was an eye opener for many as to why our hobby stands where it is today. Even Riley Hollingsworth made comments that made it clear we needed to get at least halfway in sync with the rest of the communications world!
Many of your repeater owners are going to want to carry commercial gear on their hip, not a 2nd radio just to work DSTAR. It would of been much better to take the existing digital standards and design for interoperability. I’ve been around a lot of this group and they are not impressed the DSTAR gear and choices made. Digital is the future for sure, but implementation is key.
If they wanted a data layer, then strap it on top of an existing standard and allow backward compatibility to APCO25. This layer should be completely open and extensible. Let us hams do what we used to do best…innovate. Seems we didn’t learn much from Katrina and 911.
No I’m not saying that the average ham needs to be able to access a local public safety system via APCO25 using ham gear. In most, if not all cases this would be illegal for a variety of reasons. But what many need to realize is just how many hams that are active in public service are also employed in public safety. As radio systems are upgraded across this country, guess what’s replacing them? APCO25 gear. Many of these guys/gals are already carrying high quality APCO25 gear on their side are not going to go for yet another expensive digital radio because ICOM couldn’t go with a standard. Hence ICOM immediately lost themselves a good chunk of users, users that are often the front and center face of ham radio to the agencies we serve. Give this some thought folks.
From what I gather from my travels and talking with other repeater sysops, most hams going digital are deploying P25 commercial grade gear. These P25 repeaters are seeing more interest/usage than comparable DSTAR repeater systems, but even they admit that usage is nothing compared to the 80’s and 90’s. In general the attitude from these guys is that if you’re going to do digital repeaters, then you do it right and use an open standard like P25. Yeah, P25 stuff is expensive, but DSTAR isn’t cheap either. Both will come down over time and P25 surplus gear is already pretty easy to find on ebay.
Many other concerns about DSTAR exist, but I think just the above will prevent it from ever being anything more than a niche toy. The sad part is that if it had been done right, we wouldn’t be closing in on nearly a decade of DSTAR with so little actual usage beyond a few highly vocal niches.
Both DSTAR and APCO25 are interesting technologies with pros and cons both ways. In the end things will have to stand on their own merit, not hype. I predict ICOM and the DSTAR folks are going to regret their choices.
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