Digital World (DMR, S-Star, Wires X)By Jose B Rivera - N2LRB
In May 2019, my twin brother Tony convinced me to try digital radio. He had been on DMR a couple of months and told me about Anytone radios.
I purchased one in late May. But I was also intrigued by K6UDAs review of the Kennwood TH-D 74A handheld. SoI purchased one. That way I could try out the D-Star digital mode.
Both the Anytone and the Kenwood arrived the same day.Since my brother Tony, KB2JYN, knew DMR, that was the first mode we tried to get me on the very next day. My radios arrived late in the day, so I had to wait till the next day to get on DMR. I used my brother’s hot plug and connected to a local DMR repeater. We chatted for 15 minutes when the repeater owner interrupted us and made us aware that we were on a repeater which was connected to 300 other repeaters. I thought it was odd to connect that many repeaters all at once but only have one conversation tying up all those repeaters at once . I thougth wouldn’t it be better to have 300 separate conversations than one group of people using 300 repeaters at once. We felt like we had broken so unknown rule, so we nicely left, never to return. It was then that my brother told me about a way to bypass repeaters and their owners.
My brother informed me about hotspots. HotSpots are like little repeaters that take the output of your radio and send it through the internet through a network and onto a Talk Group or Reflector. I ordered one right away. What I purchased was a Zumspot from Ham Radio Outlet. In essence, Hotspots decentralize the digital modes as one can bypass repeaters. I no longer feel bad that repeaters go unused locally.
I got my Zumspot hotspot and was on D-Star and DMR a few days later.I quickly learned that using one hotspot for more than one mode was problematic. You had to wait on one mode before talking on another. So if you were talking on D-Star and the person you were talking too took too long to respond back to you, a conversation on DMR could take up the use of the hotspot. Now you had to wait for that conversation to leave a large enough time gap in order to hear and resume the conversation on D-Star. So I knew I needed to purchase a second hotspot in order to dedicate one hotspot to each mode.
I later ended up buying two Jumbospots for portable use for DMR and D-Star. I also got an OpenSpot from RF Shark, but ended up returning it because it acted erratically. I now have three Zumspot for desktop use and two for portable use.
In late June 2019 I purchased the Icom ID-5100. I do not like using HTs at home when I could use a mobile as a base station. Besides regular FM, The Icom ID-5100 also does D-Star. It the reason I purchased it. There are no D-Star repeaters in New York City, so I had to use a Zumspot hotspot to get it to be on D-Star. I later purchased a build it yourself smaller Zumspot for use on the ID-5100 as it allows for monitoring two D-Star reflectors at the same time, but you can only hear one audio at a time. I tend to listen to REF030C and REF020A.
Wanting to know more about D-Star Reflectors, I decided to create my own. All I needed was a server with a static IP address and the N5AMD software to create the reflector on the server. I could not afford a Spectrum business account on which to obtain a static IP address, so I obtain an Amazon AWS server after creating an account. It took a little over a day to upload the software and for the reflector to show up on a listing of them. My brother Tony and I tested it out and it works!
We have not used it as much as I had hoped. Most of the time I monitor REF030C and REF020A. We also had use of XlX205N which a ham created for use.My current favorite Reflector is REF020A because it has local New York City and New Jersey station on it. Most of my D-Star contacts have been on REF030C.
On September 17, 2019 I received my Yaesu FTM-400. The FTM-400 is a regular mobile FM Radio but it also works on Yaesu Fusion/Wires X. That evening I sent the radio ID information to Yaesu and waited to obtain my PD-ID. I was hoping it would take two or three days, but it took 5 working days or as I experienced it from Wednesday to Wednesday. While waiting for my PD-ID I was able to get into several local Yeasu Fusion repeaters. I was able to get into the big “Rooms”, like “America-Link”. The audio was pretty good. No R2D2 like on D-Stars and it’s less confusing than DMR. K2MAK’s repeater was a good starting experience for me. On the 24th of September I checked my e-mail early at about 6:30 AM and I still had not received an e-mail from Yaesu from Japan. The assigning of PD-ID is done by one person, in Japan. I checked again at 7:30 and the e-mail from Yaesu Japan was there! I quickly went through the login procedure on the Wires X Software and re-started my radio. At first I thought something was wrong because all I saw was a “Wires X” text on the display. But I had not turned on the software. Once I did, the radio went into “DIRECT” mode and the Wires X software started to populate the Rooms and Nodes. I got on America-Link and made my first Wires X contact using the Wires X software with W1KRX. My first Yaesu Fusion Contact from a repeater. K2MAK, was ON3GFL.
Of all the digital modes I like Wires X the best. It has better clear sounding audio, the network is private and hosted by Yaesu servers. It’s easy to understand and the Rooms concept is also easy to understand. Though it’s a lot like a DMR Talk Group and D-Star Reflector. The FTM-400 is also beautifully made and gorgeous to look at. It made the Icom ID-5100 look pale by comparison. My second favorite mode is D-Star. There is always activity on D-Star both in the number of Reflectors (REF, XLS, DCS, XLX) and in the numbers of ham on them. Wires X looks sparse, but that is because many hams get on and stay on the Fusion part. I would guess that half of the traffic is via Fusion repeater and may not get out to the Wires X network.
I hope to obtain the new Anytone 578UV DMR Mobile radio when the plain version (no GPS, no Bluetooth) comes out. I thought I’d be getting on in late August, but it turns out they were not and at this time still are not in production. I will wait for them to come out and get one. Then I will have a mobile radio (as base stations) for DMR, D-Star and Wires X.
Getting into the Digital modes has come at a price. The radios are not cheap and nor are their hotspots. But I count the education I get as important as being able to use the radio’s themselves. Five months ago I knew nothing about DMR, D-Star and Wires X. But now I am on those modes and am running a Reflector. At some point in the future I may get an HRI200 and FTM-100 in order to have my own room. But I have to figure out if its worth it. The room has to justify itself through use, especially as a meeting place for other hams and for running nets.