My Christmas present this year from Julie was a DV Dongle. Unfortunately, supplies were short and despite ordering well in advance of Christmas, the DV Dongle didn't arrive until yesterday. Don't feel sorry for me, I had lots of lovely things at Christmas, so it was fun to have a Christmas present in January!
The DV Dongle is a bit of kit which contains the codecs to allow the digitally encoded D-STAR data to be processed by a PC and turned into audio (and text). First impression on unwrapping it was - 'that's small'!
Installation proved reasonably straightforward. First step was to download the device drivers from DVDongle.Com. Once that was done, I could see the pulsing green LED from the dongle - indicating it was working.
The next step was to download the DVTool software which allows you to connect to the D-STAR network and make QSOs. The Installation instructions on DVDongle.Com point you to a Java application. I installed it and tried to run it. Lots of disk spinning but no application. I couldn't see what was wrong. Around this point, on the DVDongle Yahoo Group I found some references to a WIN32 version of the DVTool application. I wondered whether I would have more luck with that, so downloaded it and installed it. Ran it up and could see that the application was failing owing to the lack of an 'input device'. Ah ok... let me plug the microphone in! Having done that, both the Java based and Win32 DVTool were quite happy to start!
I started off with the Java application. Following a little bit of abortive connecting to various D-STAR repeaters around the world and hearing nothing, I pointed my web browser at DSTARUSERS.ORG to see a list of currently active stations! Having done that, I was able to connect the DVDongle to a repeater in North America and hear activity! I found that using the Win32 application, I was able to see the transmitted data from the users, such as their callsigns, URCALL, RPT1 and RPT2 data. In addition, using the 'History' tab I could see the recent users of the repeater.
A first DVDongle QSO was made with Mark, G0LGJ driving towards Norwich, through the GB7PI repeater. Mark was kind enough to give me an audio report (back that microphone gain off a little!) and help me work out how to drive the software. Mark recommended I stick with the Win32 application as he had found it more reliable and to have a smaller memory footprint than the Java application.
After signing with Mark, I enjoyed listening to a number of QSOs taking place around the world from California to Australia. There's something quite magical about being able to 'parachute' into different parts of the world and make some interesting QSOs.
Some people will of course argue that the DV Dongle is not RF and is 'cheating'. I have some sympathy for the view. But, on the other hand, I'm not making 'Dongle to Dongle' contacts with no RF. By connecting to a repeater and having a QSO, we're at least making sure that there's plenty of on-air activity taking place around the world. And it's not as if this is the sum total of my amateur radio activity - I'm on RF in plenty of other places!
So, I'm really excited to be able to play D-STAR easily from home as well as from my E-92 handheld when I'm out and about. It will be fun to have the opportunity to listen to the worldwide D-STAR activity and I'm sure, make lots of interesting contacts.
Thank you, Julie, for my wonderful Christmas present!