Monitoring 147.270/R and 145.670/S(FM/DV) and 442.750/DV in Toledo, Ohio


Digital Communications.  Is the new wave, right?

UPDATE 3/27/2012 - I am a D-Star believer!  As of August 18, 2011 - TMRA (W8HHF) has deployed a 440 D-DStar Repeater (442.750+) and Gateway stack at the PNC Bank Building here in Toledo, Ohio.   Shortly thereafter, another repeater in Oregon, Ohio was on the air.  I am currently running D-Star at the home QTH and mobile.  It's pretty neat - it's not going to replace HF or analog 2/440/etc, there's still a place for that.  But I have to admit what I stated would happen has come true.  We have infrastructure and now local hams are starting to get on board with the technology.
Original D-Star Comments Below (prior to August 18, 2011) unedited...
I live in the technology field...morning, noon, and night!  I love the stuff.  D-STAR, WIRES, IRLP, ECHOLINK, etc. when it comes to Radio and Television, I'm not totally sold....yet!  After a discussion at a local ARES meeting with Al (W8AII) - I did some investigation, and this page is my current analysis as to what I dug up....
I got into Amateur Radio because I like the logic, audio, communications, technical aspect of it, but mostly I did it due to the marriage of computers into the mix.  I'm able to learn about all kinds of things and communicate around the world and "talk" to new people (I do digital as well as phone).  For those of you that know me, it can be a chore to get me started in conversing about a topic, but once I do - stand back!  I prefer the digital modes (RTTY, PSK, SSTV, Packet, etc, etc) and I don't limit myself to any one band. Whether it's HF/VHF/UHF/900Mhz/Microwave, etc.  I just love tying anything and learning new things.
Anyway, ICOM in the 1990's started looking into digital communication and ICOM developed the D-STAR technology, while YAESU went down the road of developing the WIRES technology (not digital).  At it's essence, ICOM's D-STAR product is pure DIGITAL bits moving over an ANALOG waveform - with a little INTERNET technology mixed in there to transport it world wide.  
Kenwood, Ten-Tec, etc still don't have any offerings of their own.  I'm primarily talking about D-STAR (ICOM) here, as that's the most widely used, but this could apply to others...
Isn't IRLP digital?
No!  IRLP (Internet Repeater Linking Project) just routes analog audio around the Internet (usally repeater to repeater).  It doesn't take into account extra digital information (callsigns, files, etc).  So this is not considered digital communications.  It's just extending repeaters via the Internet.  Nothing new.  In fact it's early 1990's technology at best.
Isn't Yaesu's WIRES-II a digital product then?
No!  Same thing as IRLP essentially (it automates some of the IRLP stuff - node numbers, etc), but that's basically what it is, just IRLP as Yaesu designed it.  Problem is WIRES-II never caught on in a big way in the United States.  It's VERY big in Japan, but not around North America.
What about Echolink?
No!  Echolink just removes the radio.  It's Skype for Amateur Radio.  You can plug a set of headphones with a mic and talk over the Internet to a repeater a few miles away or thousands of miles away.  Then other Echolink or other people with radios within the remote repeater range can talk and interact back with you.  This is not digital.  In fact, there's nothing new at all here.  You just have to prove you have an Amateur Radio license to use it.  All is simplifies for me is I can get into a remote repeater from my computer and interact with a remote ham radio operator via his transmitter.  I don't have to physically pick up a radio (either does he really - he could be sitting at his computer using Echolink, but regardless it's all going to be rebroadcast via a repeater/reflector somewhere).  
What about APCO-25 (Project 25)?
Yes!  That's digital, but can only be found in commercial radio gear.  You can legally modify that gear to work in the Ham Bands, but the gear is costly.  Only the order of $1000-$1500 - just to get started with end-user equipment.  And that's probably more realistily "used" prices.  So don't expect to even go down this road!
ICOM's D-STAR is currently THE only true digital ham-band enabled radio technology.
D-STAR works like this....
Pure digital! 100%.  It takes the audio you speak into the radio, translates and compresses and wraps some error correction in there.  It's all digital from here on out to the other person receiving the bits on their radio.  Wether that's simplex or via a repeater a few or thousands of miles away.  IT'S ALL DIGITAL!  Repeaters don't mess with the audio, etc.  It's all digital all the way through the system.  That's the beauty, but there's a catch...
The only problem with DIGITAL "bits" is, you either get the information or you don't.  There's no in-between.  That's why I like computers.  There's no gray area.  It either works or it doesn't.  It's very logical to me - that's the way I operate.  I'm a 1's and 0's guy.  But when it comes to DIGITAL and voice, or DIGITAL and data, that can be an issue.
When in an analog mode even if part of the transmission is fading or dropping out to some extent, "MAYDAY", "EMERGENCY", "BREAK, BREAK, BREAK", etc in a life or death scenario might still be heard (read this a "interpolated") by others.  But in a digital mode, if some of those "bits" get dropped/lost/etc. you'll hear nothing, or some type digital "junk" instead.  
Not cool if I was on the transmitting end and needed the help.  Humans do a real good job of filtering and interpolating information - even if it is limited.  Computers don't!
Unfortunately, I look at computers both ways.  Do I trust the auto-pilot in 747 going cross country.  Yes!  Would I trust an entire freeway of computer controlled cars?  Yes!  But when you throw a human into the mix....computers and humans interacting together...Watch out!  Just one drunk pilot in the cockpit, or human driving a car on that freeway and unpredictability ensues.
The digital technology is cool, don't get me wrong.  I'm not "poo-poo-ing" the idea.  It's just currently prohibitive in my shack for now.  I need broader adoption and influx of other operators.  Being the first one on the block with new technology can be very lonely.  Enlightening, but lonely.
As far as an EmComm solution, this would be excellent technology.  The ability to use Digital AND Phone at the same time - that's the way to go.  Transfering ICS/HICS/etc and communicating via phone to a remote station, that would be excellent!  Only problem...there's a total of 10 in the entire state of Ohio and about 20 in a 500 mile radius of my QTH - none can be hit via a transceiver.  Very slow adoption!  And as of this writing, that 5 years after D-STAR availability.
I'm going to stay with "Analog" for now when it comes to Amateur Radio, but I'll still use a computer to achieve my goals.  The following needs to happen before I move to pure D-STAR and digital voice/data communications type scenario....
1.) End-User pricing has to come down.  Cheapest complete D-STAR option for example, over $500 (even for an HT!)
2.) Other manufacturers must include and the technology must have mass adoption.  Currently ICOM is the only manufacturer and it's been that way for years.  No other manufacturers are even realistically thinking about it.
3.) Need consistant, always-on Internet connections at the repeater/gateway (Internet connections are getting better)
4.) Open Source the ICOM and AMBE D-STAR technology.  I mean really open source it.  Both Hardware AND Software.  You can build this yourself, but price-wise it's not feasable.
5.) More, more, more repeaters.  Clubs need to push the infrastructure.
1.) Extra Information can be stored in digital communications in addition to voice (IM chat, files, pictures, callsign, etc) at the same time!
2.) Easily "routable" around the internet or other repeaters
3.) Repeaters and End-Users can do extra "stuff" with that extra digital "channel".  Such as transfer files, count users using the system, logs, etc, etc.
4.) Can easily build failover digital repeaters and those can come on-line automatically if another repeater gets "stuck" or dies
1.) Information "dropping" - a "bad bit" isn't good
2.) Price - need to be "cheaper" for mass adoption
3.) Repeater adoption and training.  Elmers and tech savvy young hams must get involved and work together to keep this and hobby moving forward.
4.) Need an Internet connection to participate in the D-Star Gateway
5.) End-User Needs to "register" on the D-Star Network
6.) Em-Comm - mutiple analog repeaters - cheap n' easy.  Multiple digital repeaters - expensive!
7.) D-Star Gateway to the Network - Needs to Run on Linux (specifically CentOS) and very rigid design contraints
Some Further Reading
2.) D-STAR Users Organization (
3.) D-STAR Gateway Registration ( - To Register your Callsign with the D-Star Network.
Fun With D-Star
1.) Internet Relay Chat (IRC) on D-STAR
2.) D-RATS (Text Chat, File Transfer, Position Reporting, etc)
3.) DPRS (APRS for D-STAR)
Questions, contact me - Zack