WB2MIC  
Amateur Radio Station
Wells VT FN33jk  
Just say NO! to DSTAR.
Prelude

In the late summer and early fall of 2010, I let myself be persuaded by a few local hams and
few hams from New Jersey to get involved with DSTAR.  I promptly purchased an ICOM IC92AD digital voice dual band transceiver, a hotspot board and cable, firmware for the hotspot board, and a Motorola GM300 8-channel transceiver.  I was so gung-ho about DSTAR that I was going to put up a DSTAR repeater atop Northeast Mountain in Wells VT up at 2,100 feet above sea level.  Let the DSTAR begin in Vermont!

I borrowed a DSTAR hotspot and got on the "air" with the IC92AD while awaiting my hotspot board to arrive.  Almost immediately a nag started to bother me about DSTAR ham "radio".  Within two weeks, I sold it, literally giving much of the DSTAR gear away just to get rid of it from my ham RADIO shack.

Below are some of my conclusions about DSTAR as a result of my experience with it.  Obviously, DSTAR does not float my boat.  If it is for you, wonderful.  Have fun with R2D2.

My Thoughts on DSTAR
Proponents of DSTAR have openly stated that they want to keep the "CB ops" and truckers off the mode.  It is, however, DSTAR itself that is the CBification of amateur radio.  Is it not elitism with a proprietary pecuniary twist not in the spirit of amateur radio that DSTAR is leading us into?  I have heard more than a few DSTAR hams say they wanted to keep the mode safe from certain factions of hams.  Not to worry.  The cost of DSTAR radios almost guarantees this.  Guess what?  Not all hams can afford the broadband Internet.  And many live in rural areas where dial-up is their only affordable option.  Is  DSTAR an elite "mode"?  As an infamous pseudo-politician says, "You betcha!"

Someone has finally figured out a way to extract a fee from hams in order to use a particular mode.  What a wonderful metamorphosis of the ham radio spirit?  By the way, DSTAR is not a mode.  GMSK is the mode that DSTAR utilizes.   Of course many CBers and GMRS radio operators technologically have the ability to create Internet-based DSTAR-like networks of their own.  DSTAR appears to be elitism driven and apparently it is rampant.

Seems to me that when a ham radio mode, vis--vis hotspots and dongles, depends upon the Internet to communicate it is no longer ham radio.  When it depends upon a corporate-based for-profit with a monthly ISP-required fee delivery system during emergencies it is suicidal. 

I've given DSTAR much thought.  The error I made was ignoring the feeling in my gut early on that there was something very wrong with entire idea.  DSTAR is not the future of amateur radio.  It may well be, the beginning of the undoing of amateur "radio".  Is it technological progress?  Well, maybe.  But only in a very limited and narrow sense.  DSTAR, however, cannot do anything new other than pollute the ham bands with redundant digital noise on multiple frequencies in multiple and many locations as every hotspot board and repeater  linked to a reflector regurgitates the same hash all over the country.  Wait.  It does this all over the WORLD!   So much for its spectrum saving capabilities.   

Any system that relies upon keeping external computers on 24/7 to communicate has no need for a radio.  Thus, the popularity of the aptly-named dongle.  A DSTAR dongle is a $200 - $300 device (little box) that you plug into your USB port so you can then plug a headset into it and play pretend radio over the Internet.  Holy AMBE code, Batman!!  We have now reached a point where we can play ham radio and play with our dongle all at the same time!  Feels good but is no substitute for the real thing - RF generated by a radio that is free using the free and natural ether.

DSTAR is not the end-all future of ham radio as some claim.  Not even close.  It will be gone a long time (none too soon for me) while CW will remain the best and most efficient digital mode using the most advanced computer available for its operation -- the human brain.

DSTAR is marketed vis--vis it's "wonderful" worldwide interconnectivity ability using hot spot boards -- that are dependent upon the Internet to function.  Therein one finds both the lie upon and the insult to what ham radio is.  The purveyors of hotspot boards are, in effect, like drug pushers selling ham's a dependency upon a corporate communications infrastructure that is unnecessary and unneeded in ham radio.

My sense is that DSTAR will go the same route that AOR did with its digital voice modems.  In short time, seldom, if not nowhere to be found.

One hotspot board manufacturer told me that some purveyors of DSTAR push it for their own personal gain and status.  This should have been obvious to me  with the advent of front men pushing DSTAR in Vermont (and everywhere else). 

I have no problem with people selling gear they make to the amateur radio community.  But DSTAR and hotspot boards are very different in that they require a continuous stream of monetary resources out of one's pocket just to use the DSTAR system, i.e., Internet connectivity, ISP, etc.  As such, DSTAR is a leech technology where spending money is the modus operandi for the operating mode.  This is antithetical to the spirit of amateur radio.

The other day I worked a ham in Texas who was living in an apartment where no antennas could be put outside.  He was running a small magnetic loop in his living room running 35 watts and had an S9 signal into Vermont.  Then I worked a station in Colorado running 5 watts into a 32 foot wire.  Compare this with DSTAR that requires the Internet infrastructure with gobs of Cisco and other routers, computers, wires, and ISP subscriptions over which to communicate.  DSTAR is not progress for ham RADIO.

DSTAR/hotspots maneuver ham radio into dependency upon the Internet.  This is what makes it so distasteful.  New hams coming into the amateur radio service by way of DSTAR will naturally gravitate to more of this same dependency.  They will find it difficult to distinguish radio from the Internet and/or conflate the two.  This does not bode well for ham radio.

And of course when a DSTAR transmission: fuc@& u6 %349 then &%ri up ich tef is the prob^4d me un dit bit.  Sorry, I'm R2D2'ing again.  QRX, while I plug in and run my dongle on my computer to maintain "radio" communications.  Sheesh!

73, Jozef WB2MIC

Afterthoughts:  

Not only are hams encouraged to use the minimum power necessary to maintain communications they should also be using the minimum infrastructure necessary.  DSTAR just doesn't cut it.  How can it?  It's not ham radio.

Giant Corporations are running our lives more and more from cradle to grave.  Ham radio is a respite from this intrusion and insanity.  DSTAR is Corporate infiltration of the means of transmission of the special and beloved hobby of amateur radio.  As a (KJ4) ham told me in an email responding to this webpage, "Keep up the good fight! No corporate control of 'free  ham radio! Death to DSTAR!' "  Indeed, KEEP UP THE GOOD FIGHT!
    
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