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Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Why Update To Pi-Star Update 3.14.3?

Most of the folks involved with HVDN agree that DMR is the digital voice mode that is spurring on massive growth in the hobby compared to Yaesu Fusion (C4FM) and Icom D-Star (GFSK) digital modes.

This HVDN article talks about Pi-Star
version 3.14.3 and its new cross mode features

Other digital voice modes that amateur radio operators are experimenting with include NXDN and P25.  While Fusion and D-Star were developed just for amateur radio use, DMR, NXDN and P25 all started life as commercial standards.  DMR was the first to see "ham grade" equipment for sale and truly sparked the digital growth we see today.

DMR is an open standard and many new vendors took advantage of this and started to offer radios at budget price points to spur experimentation with radios marketed directly towards the amateur radio community.   Traditional "ham equipment manufacturers" such as Yaesu and Icom pretty much missed the boat by continuing to push closed standards, with Icom having a very high licensing rate of its D-Star technology built by the Japanese Amateur Radio League almost 20 years ago. The only vendor who paid to get on board with Icom's D-Star is Kenwood with its 2016/2017 released $500+ TH-D74 radio.  Limited options and expensive equipment has kept many away from D-Star as a result.  Yaesu has fared a little better, but really not by much until recently with new affordable equipment.

All These Acronyms...

There is a comparison of the different modes mentioned above at the bottom of the "Basics of DMR" page on HVDN for those interested in more details as it gets confusing quickly for some people.

Because of all these different digital modes, different radios can not communicate with each other and take advantage of benefits and featured offered by digital technology compared to analog FM or NFM. Analog FM equipment is what has been the dominant amateur choice of non-HF radio for at least 40 years and digital migration is kicking and screaming its way into the amateur radio community. A universal digital standard is needed to truly replace FM.

Your very own repeater? Sort of...

The SharkRF OpenSpot was the first "hot spot" type device to provide cross digital mode support.  What this meant was a DMR based radio could talk on the D-Star network to other users with D-Star radios.  It also provided the ability for a Fusion radio user to talk on parts of the DMR network.

SharkRF Openspot was the first cross mode capable hot spot
device to see mass adoption by amateur radio operators

With DMR radios such as the TYT MD-380 or Radioddity GD-77 costing less than $100, it gave many amateurs a taste of what 80,000+ individual users already registered to use and also be able to talk to those with just Yaesu Fusion or Icom D-Star Equipment to see if they are missing anything.

Converting analog FM repeaters is not always the best option for those looking to add digital repeater capabilities to a specific area, so "hot spots" have found a unique niche to fill the gaps while owners of great sites for repeaters decide what to do when thinking about what digital modes to support for wide area coverage to eventually replace much of the FM based repeater infrastructure.

One of the latest "hot spot" devices provided by a community of developers. This MMDVM board
provides simultaneous transmit and receive or "full duplex" operation. It is like a "mini repeater" 

Pi-Star & 3.14.3

Another "hot spot" type of device based on open source design is sometimes known as the ZUMspot, JumboSPOT, ChinaSPOT and a number of others.  The team behind Pi-Star took somewhat more "scary" command line interfaces and made things easier by way of nice visual interfaces. These all mostly run a user interface called Pi-Star and the latest revision does something very interesting.

Version 3.14.3 allows anyone with a Yaesu Fusion radio to also communicate over DMR, NXDN and P25 now. This is pretty monumental where now that Yaesu has some lower priced new Fusion radios such as the dual band hand held FT-70DR or higher powered mobile FTM-7250DR, users an now use the inexpensive Pi-Star driven hot spots to connect with users of NXDN and P25 plus of course those on DMR. It also lets someone who may have purchased surplus commercial NXDN or P25 radios communicate over DMR or Fusion.

Turn in 1000 Feet: Excitement Ahead

Could these largely community and developer driven efforts be just what some of the more well known amateur vendors need to take advantage of?  Notably absent is any form of Icom D-Star anything in this latest revision.  Kenwood sells commercial NXDN equipment as well as P25.  Icom also sells commercial P25 equipment.  Yaesu's sister brand, Vertex, also has P25 equipment on the market.

One great example of a community member working with a commercial vendor is Ty,  KG5RKI who has alternate firmware available to increase features in certain radios.  Retevis partnered with him to officially support his work.  Will we see Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood or even Alinco take a similar approach?

Could DMR just be the entrance ramp towards a NXDN or P25 amateur future?

All these digital modes also do much more than just transmit voice. They can also be used to share GPS location and text messages in the same narrow frequency bandwidth used, some at the same time as voice communication.

From just May of 2017 to today,  by May of 2019 it should be interesting what else continues to see development and what commercially made equipment comes to market.

Updating to the latest 3.14.3 release is as easy as logging into your pi-star interface, going to "expert" mode and then to the SSH function.  After providing username "pi-star" and your password or default "raspberry",  type in "sudo pistar-update" and then after that completes, run "sudo pistar-upgrade"

Please note that you may need to modify certain hot spot boards to allow firmware upgrades, but you should find no shortage of those with knowledge to help you along the way.

Sample Resources

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