Getting Started with Pi-Star: From Hotspot setup to Memory Programming

If you’ve been following my page for the last year, you will have seen at least a half dozen posts mentioning the Zumspot. It’s pretty much taken the digital amateur radio community by storm over the last year or so. I picked one up from HRO in Dayton/Xenia last year, had it up and on the air in a matter of a half hour or so – in fact it takes longer to assemble the case to put it in. For those unfamiliar, the Zumspot is a board that’s about the size of a stick of gum, it’s designed to work the the Raspberry Pi (the kits even come with a Raspberry Pi Zero to use it with).

The point of the Hotspot is to get you up and on the commonly used digital voice modes even in areas with no repeater coverage. They cover D-Star, DMR, C4FM (or Yaesu System Fusion), P25, and NXDN. In a lot of areas there is no coverage of any of these modes, less all of them, so for someone interested in trying them out, but not crazy about the idea of building up a whole repeater just to play around with the mode, these are a very cost effective method of getting into the mode, starting off at around $140 from Ham Radio Outlet for the whole Kit. It fundamentally works by receiving your RF signal in whichever digital mode/modes you choose, and transmitting it via the internet to the desired Reflector/TalkGroup/Room you choose.

A lot of people I know that have these have had the occasional hiccup with setup, or memory programming – I can sympathize with that as when I started this, I think I played around with the software for hours before it finally worked. Admittedly I’m unsure if the board even works with other software, as these boards all come with a memory card preloaded with the Pi-Star software, however having used other software such as Western Digital’s with other hotspots, I will say that Pi-Star is a much more straight forward, user friendly interface that, for the average user with no past experience with this type of thing, is pretty much just the way to go in the current digital radio landscape.

Let’s get started!

The first thing that we’re going to need to do before all else is insert the SD card that comes with the Board into the computer – this comes preloaded with the Pi-Star image which makes this easy. From there we can get you set up for wireless Internet connectivity. The Raspberry Pi (any model after the original) has built-in Wi-Fi, so what you need to know is your Wi-Fi’s SSID, or display name, and your password. Once you have that, we’re going to head over to https://www.pistar.uk and the website will look as it does below:

From here, we’re going to select the option in the left-hand column that says Pi-Star tools, and that will give you a drop-down menu, select Wi-Fi builder

It will bring you to the screen below – it provides good instructions on what to do from here. You enter your Wifi information in the circled area, and it will generate a WiFi configuration file that we will the drag and drop on to our Pi-Star memory card, and get the device up and running!

Let’s locate the file that we’ve created (should be in your downloads folder), we’ll drag and drop that into the SD Card that has our Pi-Star OS on it. For this piece simply follow the onscreen instructions, this is very well documented and easy to setup.

Once we’ve done that, let’s eject the card from the PC, insert it into our Raspberry Pi with our Zumspot board attached, and plug in the power! Be sure that you’re utilizing the Micro USB Port labeled for Power, if you’re using a Pi-Zero there are going to be two set right together – the outer one is the one meant for the 5v Power input. Wait about 30 seconds to a minute after plugging in, and then go to your PC/Tablet. If you’re utilizing a full computer, go to your internet browser and simply type http://pi-star however, if you’re utilizing an Android or iOS Device, go to your browser and type pi-star.local – after you click go/hit enter you’re going to be redirected to the “Dashboard”

From here, to begin setup, you’re going to go to the “Admin” button on the top row

You’ll be prompted for a username and password as it shows above – the default is as follows:

Username: Pi-Star

Password: raspberry

The first thing you’ll want to do before setting at configurations is fetching an update for the latest Pi-Star software, this will have any types of stability patches, security updates, etc.., so make sure you click the “update” tab along the top bar. It’ll run its course and reboot.

Once we’ve done our update, go back to the “Admin” tab to get setup! It will bring you to the following page once you select Admin

This is where the confusion comes in – what type of software are we having Pi-Star act as? MMDVMHost or a D-Star Repeater? Well, this I guess is only confusing for those that are D-Star ONLY users, but even if you’re using it exclusively for D-Star, you need to select MMDVMHost.

Below you’ll see the MMDVMHost menu, and it’s here that you select what modes you’ll be using – I use YSF (Fusion/C4FM), D-Star, and DMR, so I have all of those selected as active as you’ll see, and then click apply changes.

Next, you’ll input your Callsign, as this is what the node will need to be assigned to be able to transmit over the gateway, and your CCS7 (or DMR) ID.¬†This post is assuming that you have both registered your call, and gotten a CCS7/DMR ID, if you have not locate your closest D-Star Repeater and see if they’re setup for callsign registration, and go to http://www.dmr-marc.net/ to obtain your CCS7 number.¬†After that you’ll pick a frequency – BE SURE YOU’RE IN AN OFF SECTION OF THE BAND! Last thing you want to do is be in the middle of the satellite downlinks or something, and mess with someone’s Sat. contact. If you’re interested in utilizing DPRS to transmit your location with each transmission, as well as mark the location of your hotspot, you’ll enter the latitude, and longitude of your hotspot, and the location data it asks for below. In order for it to communicate effectively with the Pi, as well as to identify what you’re using over the gateway, select the drop-down menu for “radio/modem type,” and select your corresponding hotspot setup (as you’ll see mine is the Zumspot/Pi-Zero).

Another thing to note in the photo below is that each mode is already configured. When you check the various boxes for the particular modes after your information is in, there isn’t a whole lot else to be done. With DMR, specify that you’d like to utilize the gateway, and enable the brandmeister network, and you’re pretty much good to go. For D-Star you can choose a default reflector to link to on startup if you’d like, or if you don’t want to have it automatically link, just leave it where it’ll default to – should say REF001A and the manual box will be checked, meaning you have to tell it to link to the reflector. With Fusion, you just select a room to link to, and you’re done.

Click Apply Changes, and now, we’re ready to use it! When you save your settings, it should automatically reboot, you’ll lose your connection to the device for about 30 seconds to a minute, and then you’ll be back up and running, and ready to go! Now, it’s time to move on to the radio side..

D-Star with the Kenwood D-74

With D-Star the memory functions can be a little tricky, and while this is likely the most functional mode of all the commonly used ones today, the initial programming with an Access Point is a little tricky – the thing to remember is that we need to treat a hotspot just like a repeater, down to programming with an offset and everything. The kicker is that there is NO offset, so we have to remember to set the frequency shift to +/- 0.00 MHz. If you don’t do this, your memory will be tagged as skip, meaning any time you rotate the dial to access the memory, it will be skipped over in the repeater list. As follows are the step by step instructions for programming the Kenwood D-74. Other radios such as the Icom ID-31/51/5100/7100 all use very similar memory functions, the key point to remember with all of these radio’s is to set that +/- 0.00 MHz offset, otherwise it will not work with any radio.

Choose Write, and you’re all set! You’re on D-Star via Hotspot!

DMR with the CS-580

Programming your DMR HT is very straight forward – all that has to be done is presetting a memory bank for the Hotspot, and programming each Talk Group you’ll likely use in a separate channel. Set the TX/RX to the same frequency in the memory channels, and vary each one for each talk group. With the hotspot, while you can program an “unlink” command, it is not necessary unless you plan on just utilizing as a simplex repeater, every time you key up a new talk group, the Hotspot unlinks from the previous group, and links to the new one automatically. Below are step by step instructions for programming the CS-580 (BFXD HT), your mileage may vary as I only have DMR experience with this radio, and I’m unaware of how the software for the TYT MD-380, or Hytera radio’s works in comparison.

Save, and Write the Data to your Radio… We just have one more step! In a lot of cases the DMR radios that people use are Chinese radios that are cheaper, and not necessarily as clean on the spectrum.. So to accommodate this, we’re going to go into our expert settings, and open up the TX/RX sensitivity of Pi-Star.. This is done by clicking the Expert option at the top of the Admin menu.. You’ll be brought to the screen below:

You’ll be brought to another screen where the second orange line down says “Modem” – this is where we configure the offset sensitivity. We’re going to open that number up from 0 on both to -475 for both TX and RX as you see below

All other data can remain as is. Apply your changes, and reboot, and you’re up and on the air with DMR!

C4FM (System Fusion) with the FT-70D

Admittedly my experience with fusion at this moment is limited to dashboard control, and the little FT-70D, however having just gotten an FTM-400 I hope to change that soon. Fusion can be linked to rooms through direct input or dashboard, however up until recently the FT-70 did not support direct input. Programming is very simple however, be sure that your callsign is programmed into the radio, set the frequency for the Hotspot in your memory as a simplex frequency, and set the mode to digital. Write the memory, and you’re good to go! For the most part that is, from the Admin page on the Pi-Star dashboard you can change the room you’re linked to, and find out what room is which assigned number. When you know the corresponding numbers, you can program those into your radio, or directly input them to link to those rooms. If anybody has more information on programming radios for Hotspot use with C4FM, please feel free to comment.

Write it to memory by pressing F followed by V/M, press it again and type out what you’d like to name the channel, and press again to write, and you’re on the air on the Hotspot with Fusion!

I hope that this has been an informative post, and can be used as a tool for you in the future! And to make it easy to access in the future this will be a permanent link in the menu bar – this will remain a fluid post updated as new information comes along, but for the moment this is as up to date as can be!

January VHF 2019: Day 2 and Summary

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Day 1 was ended with 16 contacts, only a very few multipliers, and I was just generally in bad shape, but Day 2 was a completely different story. Instead of monkeying around with 6m, I just shrugged it off, the band wasn’t very open, it just wasn’t worth the time. I started off fairly close to home allowing me to get things resettled a bit before hitting my first grid (only 20 mins behind schedule!) – the roads were a mess, but this is why I drive 4×4 vehicles. Plows hated me for the first few hours I was out – I was well out of the realm of where they’d normally plow, but for some reason they decided I was in the way and made me move. I was able to find a new spot and rack up a few more points before we met up for our rover lunch. We quickly make a stop, eat some lunch, hammer out a handful of contacts, and get back on the road to hit our next grids.

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After the lunch activity, I headed down to FN12, which for me was a new grid that I do not normally work, and am I glad I did – the majority of the contacts that I made for this entire contest were from that grid! Not to mention that after having given up on 6m, I thought about the fact that I could try and go QRP with my new Yaesu FT-818 by attaching the BNC Duck and the 6m Element to it. I was able to pull off quite a few contacts this way – upwards of 60 miles from my site!

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All in all it wasn’t a bad contest, as I was about to pack up I peeked at the temperature gauge ad we were holding steady at -3… which didn’t make hanging out of the car to make those 6m QRP contacts easy! (Pictured is the 818 on the hood, had just made a contact on the other side of Rochester from about 40 miles away) Ending with a score of 24,840 I will say that while it was a dip of about 9400 from my score last January, it was an increase of about 3000 points from June, which I’ll take as a win. There are numerous improvements to make to the rover for this upcoming June, starting with 6m, and then working towards adding microwave equipment. I would like to, at a minimum, be capable of working up to 3456 in June reliably. This contest reminded me a lot of what it’s like climbing an Adirondack Peek in the winter – you’re cold, there are little things you have to pay attention to that don’t even phase you in the summer, you’re incredibly tired by the end and sometimes wait a day to put the equipment away, but it’s always fun to look back on it, and you’re excited to do it again.

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My first contest like this was June 2016, I had a mere 2100 points, and I think I only actually worked about 4 hours of time on the radio, and drove for 6. In June 2017, I put in a little more effort, and 6m opened up – happened to work down to DM32 from FN02 with a wire dipole that year! Last January was my first January contest, scoring 34,224 which was a fantastic first year to have. Wasn’t able to get near that score in June, scoring 21,758 in that contest. This June I’m aiming for 50,000, with hopes that I’ll shatter that – new plans in the works, hoping to activate extra grids early in the contest, as well as improve the antenna systems. We’ll see where it goes!

 

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A Fully Functioning Zumspot; Chinese Radios, and my seemingly unpopular opinion

Listen… We’ve all said some things we regret… I mean, I don’t necessarily regret saying that DMR Sucks, I think I just over reacted at the time because I couldn’t get my Zumspot working. Well, that’s all changed now! Now, this was actually a few months ago now due to the fact that I’ve pretty much been dead (according to my WordPress lack of activity that is) this last few months, but I’ll explain what the issue is for those with Chinese DMR Radio’s such as myself..

For starters, I have truly become a firm believer as of late that buying the cheap, off brand variety of something really isn’t worth it. Sure, it’s cheap right now, and you may not be able to swing buying the quality thing that you want right at this very moment. WAIT. Especially where it comes to technology. Pinch those pennies for a little bit, and just buy the quality item once. I learned this lesson hard with my phone(s) in the last couple of years. I used my iPhone 6 Trade in to get a Moto Z Force. That was supposed to be the top of the line Motorola Phone, if not the top end Android phone when it launched. It was supposed to be the best for any developer, our just someone who wanted better speakers, or a full, optical zoom camera or what have you. With all the cool “mods” that made the phone an awesome modular platform – fun fact, this was one of those many posts that died in draft land – but, a year and a half, three replacements, and a doggedly slow speed being the last straw, I rejoined Apple Land. But I digress… Chinese Radios! They’re still here despite the recent FCC scolding about them not being Part 97 compliant, and people were buying them in bulk for business, preprogrammed on a variety of frequencies, having no clue what they were interfering with. Not only are they still here, they’re still popular. And, to express a seemingly controversial, and unpopular opinion? Good.

It may seem as if I’m contradicting myself here with this, but I guarantee you that it serves a purpose. As a college freshman having just got my ticket, I had pennies to spend on radios compared to what I needed to have for something decent. A Yaesu VX-8 was kind of a pipe dream, and I wasn’t entirely convinced that I would be on enough to make the $400 worth it. So, at the first ham fest I went to in Rochester, NY, over the July 4th weekend, I picked myself up my first radio, the Baofeng UV-5R. And when I bought mine, it was right when the craze was starting to really take off. The radio cost me $70 with the programming cable, an extra battery, speaker mic, and desktop charger, which I thought was pretty cool! I was a broke, going into college kid, and was able to get on the air. My dad gave me an Alinco DR-110 to put in the car, we installed it right where the Tape deck was with very little trouble. It actually seemed like my Malibu was built to have a radio in it somewhere. Not two months later, at another local hamfest, did I have an issue that broke my Baofeng though. I went to unplug the speaker mic, and the audio connection was stuck. I could transmit, but I just couldn’t hear anything unless I had something plugged into the speaker slot. I was able to get it exchanged under warranty, but knew that those radios were not meant to last. I could go into the details of how I sold a few things to buy a radio that was a steal of a deal, to sell that to buy another one, to then sell that to eventually purchase the Kenwood D-74 that I now use, but that’s a story for another time. I’m here to talk about hotspots, and Chinese digital radios.

Two years ago at the Dayton Hamfest, at the Connect Systems booth, I decided, hey, why not. They were selling BFDX DMR handheld radios that they’ve branded the CS-580. If they’ll brand it, it has to be a halfway decent product, and for $110 with the programming cable, I went for it. As far as build quality goes, I cannot complain about this product, it’s a sturdy radio for sure, in fact it reminds me a lot of a Yaesu in the way of how it feels, but without the price tag. That same year I received a DV Mega, that I had just gotten working not two weeks before we left for the hamfest, but since I didn’t have anything in the way of a case, portable display, or battery, I decided to leave it at home. As soon as I got back from the hamfest though, I decided that I was going to give it a shot. I plugged in the hotspot, but there was no TX/RX at all. I tried everything I knew of, but that was that. I called HRO, and they sent it away for repair… and… well, they still have it actually. And, since there’s little to no DMR coverage in our area, away the radio went until I could get my hands on another hotspot to play with it again. This year was that year, the year of the Zumspot! I’m a huge fan of this Hotspot, you cannot get much more plug and play than it is – I was on Fusion immediately, XRF D-Star Reflectors, but the others took some time… someone forgot to change their call sign in the gateway registry, so anything in the D-Plus network took some time to finally get fixed, but that has nothing to do with the hotspot, and was complete operator error. DMR on the other had, that was the tricky one. Why? Well, because of my Chinese radio. They transmit slightly off frequency, so in the settings you have to adjust the sensitivity +/- .400 MHz. I researched this for days, over the span of weeks, I racked my brain around for ever, only to eventually find this fact on a very similar blog post to this one, buried at the bottom of a long rant… kind of like you just did. All in all, after a few months of using it, hopping on a few DMR nets, one during pumpkin patrol even – which was very informative about how NY is one of very few states to partake in this activity, and many operators have no clue what this is – I can say with certainty that I now have a new appreciation for the mode, and that saying that it sucks is a bit of an overstatement. It’s fine, in fact I think that the UI allows more functionality than Fusion does at the moment, but when it comes to the tech, it doesn’t win over D-Star. I’ll keep it as my second favorite for the moment.

Sorry Fusion, you just took a demotion to something that I have to use a Chinese radio for.

Oh, and lastly, to wrap up the Chinese radios discussion, everybody has an opinion on them, but here’s my two cents. Sure, the cheap radios aren’t the greatest, but they’re a means to spark interest. For me, getting that radio and getting on the air was probably one of the most important moments in radio for me. I wanted something so I could hop right on, and I didn’t make much money teaching swim lessons to kids, and lifeguarding. I was also trying to save money for books for my first semester of college. What was available to me? An old, mobile, or HT that may not have even had a tone board, making it useless for local repeaters, and that I’d likely have to repair to get on, or the Baofeng. I chose the latter. While I still have my replacement one for the first one I bought, it’s not my primary radio anymore, I stated above how much I like the D-74, but had I not been able to get on the air for an affordable price, and eventually work my way to something much more functional, and reasonable, I don’t know that I ever would be sitting here now discussing all of this cool stuff, or going from Tech to Extra in a year and a half, and now considering trying to go for licenses from other countries even (yes, I’d like to take a shot at getting a VE3 this summer, since I can technically only operate under the basic privileges anyways). They’re not ideal, and if someone can afford something better they should definitely not buy the Chinese radio, but get one, play around with it, and then pinch the pennies for something better.

January VHF Contest Prep – 2019

Hi Everyone! So my grand plan of writing frequently hasn’t quite panned out as I had posted about – I still have a quite a few posts canned for publishing, I just need to read them over so I don’t sound like a complete dimwit… with that being said, it’s not really in the cards to get to those at the moment, but I thought I would make a quick post about how contest prep has been going!

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a fellow club member assist me with the construction of a luggage rack mount for antennas, in addition I’ll be borrowing a couple antennas, and utilizing a few home built ones as well.. The goal of this? To cut setup time to virtually nothing but getting out of the car to add a few feet to the masts to give more height. This will definitely aid in the addition of more grids this year. In the past two years that I have really gotten into the rover form of contesting, or just contesting in general, I’ve done a few modifications here and there to make operating easier, but overall, I haven’t contributed much to aid my setup times, which would seriously help with the ability to add some more grids. I always go out with the plan of operating from four grids, but usually something happens, and I’m stuck operating only two or three if I’m lucky. This year, I’ll be shooting for five to six, but I’ll be happy if I can at least circle my four. The plan will be to operate three or so hours in a grid, and move on.

In addition, instead of hoping I’m typing the correct call in the dark, I’ve been able to get Roverlog, the software that I have been using on my tiny ASUS Transformer for the last four contests, running within my MacBook!! Meaning that nice illuminated keyboard will be at my disposal finally! In addition to that, I will be running WSJT-X for digital mode operation from the rover… assuming that the rig interface is still functioning well. That is something that I have been unable to test yet, as we’re in the middle of a move, and all the radios just were packed up as I got everything working well.

With any hope, so long as all is functioning properly, and I’m on the air on schedule, I think that this is on pace to be the best score yet in a contest for me, and if not, we’ll see what can be learned from this moving into June. Usually I’m scrambling the day before, but I think at this point I can officially say that even with this being near the bottom of the totem pole as far as current priorities, I’ve put more planning into this than previous years, and I’m incredibly grateful for the big save I’m receiving for getting antennas properly mounted for roving this year. As long as the remainder of this move goes according to plan, we’ll be right on track for the remainder of the contest planning, and ready when it’s go time!