Monday, March 21, 2011

Getting to Know D-Star

I've been a radio guy all my life. I passed my amateur "ham" radio license exam about the same time I passed my driver's license test, and have been happily sending signals into the sky since then.

The past ten years, I have been playing with digital ham radio, which for me meant keyboard to keyboard contacts, APRS (GPS & ham radio), home weather stations and such. But last weekend, digital ham radio took on a whole new dimension when I plugged in a microphone.

The technology is called D-Star (Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur Radio) and it was developed with research by the Japanese Amateur Radio League. It combines the best in ham radio technology with Internet networking to provide a unique experience.

I first saw D-Star several years ago and was stunned by the audio quality, not surprising since it uses part Internet and part radio to make the path. But there were no repeaters and it was pretty much a "point to point" system. For me, half the fun of ham radio is "calling CQ" and listening for a response from anyone anywhere.

D-Star has really grown since then, with more than 40 reflectors and hundreds of repeaters. It was time for me to jump in.

I ordered an Icom ID-880 transceiver and, when it arrived, programmed in my local VHF D-Star repeater frequency here in Dallas. Then I programmed in my call sign (N5CSU) and entered the path to Reflector 001C, the so called MegaReflector. This takes my little VHF transmission and retransmits it to about 25 repeaters that are currently connected to that reflector. On my first transmission, a ham near Melbourne, Australia answered my call! Later that evening, I talked to a ham that was operating mobile near Times Square (describing in detail the St. Patrick's day celebration going on.)

Just listening to reflector 1C this weekend has been fun, with voices from Australia, Scotland, England, Russia, Canada and all parts of the US coming out of my little radio.

There are many advantages to digital comms over analog! The call sign, name and short message scroll by on my radio display, and you can see the activity logs on an Internet site; lists the last 100 or so hams using D-Star. And, hams can now use a headset and a "dongle" plugged into a USB slot and come out on an repeater in the world!

While D-Star is currently only supported by one manufacturer, and there is a learning curve to using it, it has definitely won me over as a new fun mode! It will be on here in the "ham shack" from now on.

To learn more about D-Star, check out the Wikipedia entry. And if you would like to join us on the air, check out! Ham radio is a lot of fun, and a grerat way to learn about new technology. And, you no longer have to learn the Morse code.

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