Anybody who has done anything on Amateur Radio bands lately, especially on HF and 6m, has noticed the sheer quiet that is the voice section. It’s the novelty of the FT-8 that still hasn’t worn off. We’ve had some pretty poor conditions as of late due to the poor sunspot cycle, but this month we’ve had some really nice openings all things considered. 6m (if you read my contest article) you’ll note that I continually seem to have issues getting to work. The January contest, and this past June specifically, but other instances as well. If you’re not into HF or SSB work, and you traditionally stay on HT’s, and Mobile rigs using repeaters, you’re likely sticking around FM, or one of the hodgepodge of current digital modes. I touched on this briefly in my previous article on the Zumspot Hotspot for Digital Radio. What you likely took away from that was that I thought it was a great hotspot for any mode, what I didn’t touch on was configuration… to which end has led me to virtually give up on DMR.
In 2017 at the Dayton Hamfest (first year in Xenia), I picked up a CS-580 DMR Handheld. Sure, it works fine simplex, but after a year, two hotspots, and only having one repeater in a reasonable distance from me, I’ve given up on the mode. I have made on, very brief QSO on the NA Talk Group, and that’s about it. It’s not incredibly difficult, however configuring DMR for hotspot use just isn’t entertaining to me, neither is DMR. Fusion (C4FM), and D-Star I can get behind. Fusion has its perks – it retains virtually the same bandwidth as an FM communication, and allows data to be added on as a transmission as well, GPS location, photographs, and text callsign are some examples. There is probably more that I’m missing, but in all honesty, I’m not an expert. I’m an amateur, and that’s the point. But where Fusion retains that bandwidth, D-Star shrinks it down to a fraction of the bandwidth, and allows a lot of the same data to be transmit. In reality, they’re quite similar technologies, both prevalent in the amateur community, especially with the rebates that Icom and Yaesu have been offering on their radios over the last couple of years.
For amateur purposes, I see both having benefits, and I’ve had people that are all in with both modes try to convince me of each ones advantages, and while I like Fusion and all, there are just a couple of things I can’t get past when it comes to the radios more than anything else:
1) Fusion IS proprietary… everyone claims D-Star is, but if it were, Kenwood would not have the D-74, and would be on its way down the drain, because in my mind, them adopting that mode is what has kept them a notable name in the ham market. The proprietary nature of the mode is kind of a turn off here, because Yaesu menus are not the easiest to navigate, especially their more intricate radio’s. While I own an FT-70, and it’s fairly straight forward, I still had to break open the manual to figure out how to access the menu, which I don’t like.
2) It’s a digital mode. I’m using a digital repeater. Both myself, and the station I am making contact with are communicating digitally. Why in the world is my radio switching from digital to FM when all I did was drive underneath a noisy power line? Thankfully this isn’t the norm on all radios anymore, at was the AMS mode, or Automatic Mode Select that would toggle the radio between digital and analog based on the incoming signal. All in all, it isn’t an awful feature… it’s just a bad feature that nobody really wants.
3) Lastly, no matter what Yaesu tells you about how great the infrastructure, and linking capabilities are, they’re lying to you. Repeater communication is always like a party line, but when you add in the concept of having no other linking option to a larger party line, it just becomes a headache. Fusion allows you the capability of linking to specific “rooms,” yes, just like your old chat room on AOL. They’re hosted nodes that you talk over using the digital mode, however this is the only linking capability that is there.
From a sheer usability standpoint, D-Star is the clear winner here. It allows direct repeater linking – yes, I, in WNY, could link to your local repeater in England, and we can carry on a conversation. Or better yet, I can enter your callsign, and talk direct to you! There’s a little more to it than that, but the ability is there. We’re only hogging up one party line in that case, not 3 (both local repeaters, and the reflector). Sure, the nodes/reflectors are available in D-Star, but it isn’t my only option as with both Fusion, and DMR. It’s really about personal preference in the end, but all in all, you can’t do too much with Fusion, and I want to play with this stuff! It’s a hobby for a reason, right?