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
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
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-à-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
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
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-à-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
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
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!
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!