A new ham recently wrote me & asked me about my thoughts on the new digital FM modes, and so I thought I’d make a post about it! I’ve dabbled a bit in digital FM over the past couple years with C4FM & DMR. First with my Yaesu FTM-400DR radio (C4FM), and then with a Connect Systems 580 HT (DMR). I thought that the technology was pretty neat – crystal clear audio, that even worked better it seemed, when the end user was on the fringe as opposed to analog FM. I’ve yet to experiment with D-Star (though I’m sure I will one day!).
C4FM was initially more enjoyable because it was immediately accessible from my radio by entering my callsign & waiting what seemed forever while the poor GPS receiver on the 400DR acquired a GPS signal (which isn’t required – but tells the other user exactly how far away you are if you’re in the right mode). DMR on the other hand requires that you program something called a ‘Code Plug’. Generally requires that you plug the radio into a computer, with programming cable & use the proprietary software of whomever the radio manufacturer was. Not too difficult, but most seem to complain about the code plug process & that you can’t usually program a DMR radio directly from the radio front panel. Don’t forget to register for your DMR network ID number either which is required in the settings on your DMR radio to access the network. This is your ‘caller ID’ so to speak. If the other user has a database big enough in his/her radio, and has all the contacts saved, its possible that they might see your info on the radio. I imagine that database is filling up quick! C4FM on the other hand uses a stand alone system.
C4FM & DMR Repeaters have popped up all over the nation it seems. Heck, our own N5OAK repeater is C4FM, but in order to interlink it with our IRLP node & EchoLink we can’t activate that function. Many of these repeaters are interlinked with one another, some creating some very wide area networks which have quite effective coverage, but I’ve noticed as these systems have grown, they’ve become quite overpopulated. I’d imagine most of these systems are interlinked using an internet connection of some sort.
I have two primary complaints about digital FM modes like this –
- Interoperability – I’ve yet to see any radio manufacturer step in and try to fix an issue that is all too easily fixable. In the Network Admin world – we use something called the ‘OSI Model’. Which is the Open Systems Interconnection model – basically allows the entire massive network of computers/servers/telecommunication hubs/etc to communicate with one another on this massive globe. Some have interlinked DMR/C4FM/DSTAR machines together, which is a step in the right direction.
- Simplex – Unless its scheduled and planned, and your community has a designated Digital simplex channel, your chances of calling out on 146.520 (or any other for that matter) and getting a hit on digital are slim. I have never made an unscheduled digital contact & I have called out more times than I can count.
If the first issue is fixed, then that’ll fix the second 🙂 Proprietary technology keeps things separated & segregated. As far as which sounds better? Digital has a certain quality about it that sounds crisp & clear, but analog has that warmth to it that digital just can’t pick up. Each has their strengths/weaknesses IMO. For some, these new digital modes are the bees knees and a breath of fresh air into the hobby. Still relatively new, I can’t really complain too much either. I’m sure as interest grows, and hams start asking for interoperability more, equipment & standards will change.
For now, i’ll stay cuddled up to my new FT-60R this winter and getting acquainted with an ‘old in the tooth’ HT! I ordered my last off-brand DMR HT recently & had a horrible experience with it. Yet another HT with a front end receiver so wide – nothing gets filtered, I’d imagine the same is true of transmitting. Too many of these companies are manufacturing these dirty HT’s which have so many issues, they’re coming out with 100 firmware updates the first month its on the market. That says something about their QA/QC. There are certainly better radios for the task though!
This is in no way bashing the digital modes. I’m all about maximizing contacts & making those ‘random’ contacts in ham radio which make it ‘magical’!