Friday, January 15, 2010

Setting up my DV Dongle

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!


g4ilo said...

So basically you are doing the same as you could do using EchoLink except that you need an expensive "dongle" whereas EchoLink is free?

I'm sorry but I find the whole D-Star concept to be totally unnecessary and the requirement to use a proprietary and expensive codec makes me feel it shouldn't be on the amateur bands at all. I'm not against the idea of digital voice but it should have been done using completely free and open technologies that would allow people to operate using just a freeware program on their PC connected to their legacy analogue FM radios.

Tim said...

Fair enough, Julian!

I do agree that D-STAR has been very 'closed' up until now. It's good to see much more progress on Open D-STAR projects now, so for example we're seeing D-STAR repeaters other than the proprietory Icom ones. Someone I spoke to last night was suggesting that a different type (priced?) dongle might be available soon too.

So it's good to see D-STAR opening up a bit. I think it needs to gain more acceptance.

I think it's an interesting technology - certainly enjoy playing with it myself, but accept it's not everyone's cuppa!

Steve GW7AAV said...

I must say I have to agree with Julian on this. Digital voice is the future of radio but D-Star is not it. When an open source alternative comes along maybe we can think about taking it seriously.

The DV Dongle seems to be another case of UK amateurs getting ripped off, £199 in the UK and $199 in the US. What exchange rate are these people using? For £199 I could buy a nice hand-held or even a second hand HF set, it seems a lot for something that you can do already for free with Echolink and other Voip services.

It is however nice to see one or two people out there are building their own D-Star interfaces for rigs other than Icom but even they are complaining the chip required is too expensive.

G0MJW said...

You are not using the right software if it is based on JAVA. There is a beta version 2.0beta4 available for download. I assume you are actually using this as it has more features than the software on the CD.

It is small, most of the cost is the chip for the codec.


Tim said...


Thanks. Sorry if that wasn't clear. I'm not using the Java app - though I did try it out at install time. I've grabbed the Win32 version from and am using the Beta4 release which seems to be working well.

As you say, most of the cost is in the Codec.

Tim said...


You may well be right that D-STAR isn't the future of digital radio, The risk of being an early adopter somtimes means that you have to throw your investment away! The flipside is that you had some fun and input, perhaps, into the evolution of the technology. At least D-STAR is a start. Also, there's a sense that it's fostering a bit more interest and activity than we've seen on VHF/UHF (FM) for a while - so good for activity.

Certainly I agree about the price disparity between the US and the UK. This has forever been the case, which doesn't make it right, of course.

It does appear that various open source D-STAR components are starting to appear now, which is really encouraging. I saw an article which I haven't read in full yet, mentioning that Jonathan, G4KLX had written some Open Source Repeater Software.

There are no rights and wrongs here - just opinions! Makes life interesting, I guess!

g4ilo said...

There are really two separate reasons why I don't like D-Star. One is much the same as I feel about yet another digimode. Hams are too fond of reinventing the wheel and coming up with different, incompatible ways of doing things we can do already. It isn't clear to me why D-Star is better than EchoLink or IRLP and if it is, wouldn't it have been better to look at extending those in a backward compatible way. With Icom pushing D-Star it looks as if the older technologies are being sidelined, and whether or not it is the ideal solution it stands a very good chance of succeeding for that reason alone.

My other reason for disliking it is of course the proprietary codec. If an open system had been used that would allow someone to connect a PC running a bit of freeware to their radio and try out digital audio then that would have been much more in the amateur spirit.

I don't entirely agree with Steve that digital audio is the future of amateur radio. I don't think it matters from the communication point of view whether audio is analog or digital. But analog modulation can be achieved using a handful of discrete components whereas digital modulation will always require a complicated chip of some sort. If analog audio eventually goes the way of the spark transmitter then so does the opportunity to build simple receivers and transmitters, and that would be the death of the hobby as far as I am concerned.

Mike said...

I agree on the rip off - I paid $199 for my DVD. By the time you add VAT it is £150.

It has always been like this and the simple solutin is to not put up with it and buy via the internet. This is why electronics gear has got a lot cheaper recently. Don't blame the dealer, it is mostly the distributor. With DVD it is the dealer, I know the manufacturer.

So, why have I not heard any of you using DStar?

Tim said...

Haven't heard you either Mike! Having said that, if you're the G0MJW Mike - then I did see you connected to a reflector the other day!

Look forward to catching you on air soon.

Neill G4HLX / F5VLD said...

Julian wrote: It isn't clear to me why D-Star is better than EchoLink or IRLP and if it is, wouldn't it have been better to look at extending those in a backward compatible way.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I see them as entirely different. Isn't D-Star a system for digital voice over RF, with all the associated new technology and possibilities for routing etc., while EchoLink is just Internet linking of analogue FM repeaters. We've had FM repeaters for nearly 40 years, there seems to be nothing new on the RF side there, whereas digital voice is a new (and overdue) development. Even if D-Star is not the optimal way, at least it's a start. And if no-one is smart enough to come up with an open source CODEC, we have little choice but to use a proprietary one, for the time being.

N2LEE said...

Julian too bad you "don't get" but I see a lot of hams who are not open to new ideas.

First of all EVERY piece of gear you are currently using has proprietary technology in it. Take Windows for example, where is the source code for that ?

Every Yaesu, Icom and Kenwood radio has proprietary technology in it and yet you do not have a problem with those products.

As far as D-Star, the only thing that is patented is the CODEC and peoples complaint about this is a smoke screen. If the AMBE offers the best quality, error correction and narrow bandwidth then why not license it ?

And finally there is no comparison between Echolink/IRLP and D-Star. D-Star is an digital end to end system that includes routing, linking and networking built in to the system. With D-Star all I have to do is enter your callsign and the NETWORK knows where you are located and how to find you automatically. Show me how you do this with Echolink ?

If hams will simply look at the functionally and get off their high horse they will see the features and capability out weight the extra $100-$200 it adds to a radio.


g4ilo said...

Lee, I'm not closed to new ideas, but I am against the adoption of technology that turns ham radio into an alternative to the mobile phone network and makes traditional ham communication modes seem archaic or obsolete.

Making a contact by bouncing a signal off the ionosphere and seeing who hears it may be an old fashioned way of doing it and an unreliable way of contacting a particular individual but it is fun and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand how it works. With D-Star most of the functionality is in the network, radio plays an incidental part, and that to me is not what ham radio is about.

Anonymous said...

I see D-star like i see marmite if you dont like it dont eat it to many hams are jumping on the anti d-star bandwaggon saying they think its all in house with icom gear well ive tried echolink and eqso and it works fine but not every rptr is linked to it so it dont serve my purpose so with d-star i can have a qso via rf to anyone who is on the d-star system be it rf or using a dongle so what is the problem i see it as a very good system and if the anti d-star are that concerned about it why oh why did they not do something better than d-star all these people who slag of the system i bet they are the so called amatuers who sit on skype and chat rather than using 2mtrs or 70cms but if the government decided to take the 70cms away and give it to other users they would complain at the end of the day d-star has brought more rptrs into the spectrum and even itens like the dongle and dv access point and keeping the hobby alive some people should just stop there bitching about d-star as i said in my opening if you dont like it dont use it as the meerkat says it simples


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