Sunday, March 29, 2009

My first steps in D-Star

If you've been reading this for a little while, you can't help but notice that I've been interesting in how the D-Star system has been developing. A Hambrief podcast recently, where Chris, N7ICE demonstrated D-Star in action was the final straw! I wanted to try it out for myself.

One of the issues that caused me to stop and think was the fact that there's no local activity here - or at least, there aren't any D-Star repeaters within easy range of Longworth - or indeed on my regular commute. I didn't want to use one of the D-Star dongles, as I wanted to try D-Star through RF.

I decided that I'd be best off getting one of the Icom IC-E92D handhelds. For one thing, it is a lot cheaper than the mobile radios - and I don't really want to replace my FT-8900 which I use in the car - it's just such a great rig. For another thing, since there's more D-Star activity in London, I thought I could take the rig into London and maybe make some contacts during lunchtime. I'd been wanting to try it for a while, but the time was right recently to make a purchase!

So the rig arrived in mid week. First impression was of a very nice unit - solidly built, well featured both for analogue and digital modes. I quickly got the rig going on the local 145/433 analogue repeaters and made a couple of contacts. On GB3WO, which is Echolink enabled, I enjjoyed using the DTMF keypad to set up links - something I've not been able to do.

Yesterday, Julie had an OU tutorial in Reading for the morning. I decided to take the rig in to Reading, hoping that I might be able to spend a little time setting up D-Star. I also hoped that I might be able to hear the Amersham D-Star repeater, GB7AU. So, there I was, sat on a bench by the Kennet and Avon Canal with the handheld and the instruction book.

Actually, setting up the rig for D-Star isn't difficult. I quickly got the MY callsign set up as G4VXE. What wasn't immediately obvious to me was what to set the R1 and R2 parameters to and there were a couple of false starts, trying to call people through GB7AU whilst I didn't have things setup properly. But, I was quickly hearing people through the repeater from all over the UK as well as Denmark - since GB7AU was connected to the REF005 reflector.

Reading a few more pages, I discovered that I could get obtain the parameters I needed by listening to other stations and found the magic parameters to make things work was to set UR to CQCQCQCQ R1 to GB7AU B and R2 to GB7AU G

I also found that it is possible and apparently, general practice to place your name after a / in the MYC parameter, hence when I work someone - my callsign will display as G4VXE/Tim on their screen, which is clever. It also seems to be possible to have another text message scroll on their screen, so I've added my e-mail address in there which seemed like it might be useful.

Did I work anyone? Yes! My first contact on D-Star was with Ellis, GM4JLZ in Aberdeen, followed by Mike, G1ZRN and Rob, M0ZPU.

Great fun and the biggest learning experience I've had in ham radio for a while! Thanks, guys!


g4ilo said...

I can't help thinking that by turning repeaters into a network that allows you to contact anyone, anywhere, you are creating something that's more like using a mobile phone than ham radio. And there isn't much interest or excitement involved in making a call on a mobile. I wonder how long it will take people to get bored with it?

Tim said...

Good to hear from you, Julian.

It's certainly a point worth thinking about. Actually, my take on it is slightly different (though by no means correct!).

Repeaters, are pretty close to a mobile phone, in terms of amateur radio terms, any way. Largely, we use them to talk to a known group of people from our cars or perhaps when we're using hand portables.

What we're adding, by using D-Star is the ability to network the repeaters together, hopefully making the network more interesting to use and to provide more opportunities to make contacts, as well as some opportunities for low speed (on VHF/UHF, at least) data transmissions.

Much of the networking capability, though, could be delivered by the Echolink system - and many of those nodes are really quiet which is certainly a point in favour of your argument.

However, I do think it is important to try new things and for amateur radio to move forward. I'm guessing D-Star is not the end point for digital VHF operation, but at least it's the start. That's what's interesting to me.

I won't be giving up playing on CW or VHF/UHF DXing - those are different facets of the hobby with their own appeals. D-Star is another.


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