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Author Topic: Mobile Rig choice: digital or analog?  (Read 2100 times)
N1SFT
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« on: November 11, 2017, 01:57:34 PM »

Hi folks,  I have returned to Amateur Radio after a 15+/- year hiatus.  In those years, my good ole trusty Alinco DJ-F1T seems to have become somewhat obsolete.

With the introduction of internet linking systems like D-Star, and Fusion and the like... am I missing a huge bit of QSOs and operating since I'm not onto the network?

I find I can purchase some rather decent analog mobiles with cross band repeat, and some with APRS built in... but would I be doing a disservice to myself to blindly ignore the new digital capable radios?

Thanks,

craig
N1SFT
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Craig T. Bailey
N1SFT
WRAE792
KU3X
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« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2017, 05:23:03 PM »

It all depends on what your needs are.
Other types of transmissions will give you more choices.
DMR, D Star and Fusion are all modes that offers more people to talk to.
I just use a plain old FM dual band radio and that fits my needs.
At home I listen to Do Star at times.

Want to talk to more hams? Add more modes.
Barry
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KK6RPX
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« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2017, 06:26:55 PM »

I think part of the answer may depend on where you live. I live out in the sticks and there is very little digital. Pretty much everything on 2M is analog FM, except for some SSB action if you look. In an urban area it might be different. I'd ask around in your area.
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K5LXP
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« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2017, 07:33:16 PM »

I bought a DStar radio a while back and found it to be "clunky" to operate, and the audio sub-par.  The flagship DStar radio does abstract the user from some of the arcane settings but has a pretty steep price of admission.  Recently I got a DMR radio and found it quite obtuse to operate, and the audio to be that of a crappy cell phone call.  The Fusion digital mode is just getting started, though I'm told it has the "best" audio of amateur digital.  But it will probably be some time before you see any density of infrastructure for that, witness DStar after 15 or so years.  You're lucky to have 1 DStar repeater for every 20 FM machines in a given area.

The way I see "digital" is it amounts to be chat rooms on an HT.  Working locals on digital is no different than FM, other than the crappy audio.  There are general and specific talk groups/reflectors to hear traffic/groups/regions you're interested in, of course all piped in via internet.   Many operate via hot spot dongles connected to their wifi, which of course means they can communicate with their digital HT about as far as they can throw it.  An awful lot of overhead just to work VOIP on the internet, if you ask me.

That's not to say it isn't or will never be useful, but for now having a hard time getting excited about it.   I find myself turning off the wide area reflectors/talk groups because it's just a bunch of constant blather once the newness wears off.  Some of the special interest nets are OK, and connecting to a remote city/state and talking to folks you know can be handy/fun.  The repeaters being a "party line" you don't always get to pick what reflectors/talk groups are active, or possible, so sometimes you get what you get.  I think "digital" can be a tool in the tool box, and am all for the adoption and enhancement of the mode going forward.  I wouldn't run out and spend a bunch of money on a proprietary radio though unless the content was really worth it to you.  See if you can borrow radios for a while that have coverage in your area and see what it's about for yourself.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM

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NA4IT
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« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2017, 03:54:16 AM »

Considering there are usually two uses for mobile radio, hobby and emergency communications (getting help when YOU need it), I would go with analog. And don't program just repeaters. A lot of hams are returning to simplex, because more and more high level repeaters are going by the wayside, and usually simplex will communicate almost as far as a repeater. I do recommend dual band radios (2M / 70CM - 144MHz/ 440 MHz).
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N1SFT
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« Reply #5 on: November 14, 2017, 06:14:10 AM »

Interesting input.  Thank you from a guy whos been away from the hobby for a while.

I'm in southern NH (Nashua.)  I'm not sure of the digital status of any of the repeaters that I drive through.  I have re-joined the local Radio Society, so I will be physically getting to know the current hams to ask directly. 

The VOIP-ness of the digital FM doesn't surprise me at all, and after using VOIP systems at work for conferencing I get the "crappy audio" concept.

I've recently bought an analog HT that i've been bringing with me in the car with the expected performance.  I think I'll just install my old 25W 2m analog RadioShack HTX in my commuter car.

I'm going to take a wait and see what happens with the digital system for now, and not invest in a digital mobile rig for now.

Thanks very much!

Craig
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Craig T. Bailey
N1SFT
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K5LXP
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« Reply #6 on: November 14, 2017, 10:46:07 AM »

I'm in southern NH (Nashua.)  I'm not sure of the digital status of any of the repeaters that I drive through. 

Online repeater directories like Repeaterbook and RFinder have filters to locate the various digital mode machines.  A quick lookup shows 34 "digital" repeaters within 25 miles of Nashua so good bet there's something where you go.

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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KA2ODP
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« Reply #7 on: November 26, 2017, 05:50:43 PM »

The major problem with digital operation on the Amateur Radio VHF and UHF bands is the lack of a common digital standard.  Yaesu, Kenwood, and Icom each offer digital radios, but each brand uses its own proprietary digital format.  So Yaesu digital radios will only work with other Yaesu radios, Kenwood digital radios will only talk to other Kenwood digital radios, and Icom D-Star digital radios will only communicate with other Icom D-Star radios.  The public safety world (fire/police/ambulance/etc.) all settled on a common digital standard called P-25.  So any brand of digital radio will talk to any other brand of digital radio so long as they are all using the P-25 standard.

As was mentioned, you need to research the digital repeaters in your local area and find out what brand of radios everyone is using.  If you go out and buy a Yaesu digital radio, but all the local repeaters are Icom D-Star models, you will have no one to talk to.  Even if you do buy the "right" brand, if you move to a new town a few years later you might find that everyone there is using a different brand of digital radio.  So at that point you have to toss your current radio in the trash can and buy a different brand just to have someone to talk to.  This lack of a common digital standard for Amateur Radio makes no sense to me, nor do I see any sense in wasting money on a brand specific means of communications. 

My daily work involves the use of a Federal P-25 digital trunked encrypted narrowband radio system.  The lack of a standard digital format for Amateur Radio VHF/UHF communications makes it a dead-end for me.  The old standard 25 kHz FM analog format on 2-meters works fine for me.  And the FM analog repeaters still vastly outnumber the various brands of digital repeaters.
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K5LXP
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« Reply #8 on: November 26, 2017, 09:05:52 PM »

The lack of a standard digital format for Amateur Radio VHF/UHF communications makes it a dead-end for me.

DMR is based on an ETSI standard, and uses off the shelf commercial equipment.  When someone figured out how to modify the firmware in a commodity commercial product to allow some ham-centric features, the genie is now out of the bottle and I think DMR will see some rapid growth and popularity in the near term.  Icom and Yaesu would've declared victory had their products seen the rise in deployment as DMR has in the past year or so.  So while I think manufacturers will continue to support their own proprietary protocols I think going forward you'll see more bridging of systems and multimode repeaters, such that you can run anything, and hear anything through the system.  Clearly not there yet, but it's only a matter of time.  Witness the PAPA system in California.  Not truly protocol agnostic but demonstrates that multiprotocol systems can be built and will continue to be refined as time goes on.  Once that reaches critical mass I think the proprietary systems will fade away, because they bring little to the table in terms of differentiating features and add significant cost to the end user.  Users must wait for the manufacturer to add features which may never come, where with DMR anyone can experiment and come up with different ways of doing things.   Two things allowed this to happen - an open standard, and inexpensive modifiable equipment. 

Mark K5LXP
Albuquerque, NM
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