Friday, October 28, 2022

7 Year Itch: Global Digital Repeater Growth



With cooler weather here to stay for a while, its time for another global digital repeater roundup brought to you by Steve K2GOG of Hudson Valley Digital Network.

This has been a 7 year in the making project tracking the different digital voice modes currently leading VHF/UHF repeater deployments, according to data from repeaterbook.com


Every May and October, data has been collected from the leading source of the most accurate source for repeater details globally.  While some local options might exist that may be more up to date, ideally that information should be shared with repeaterbook.com to help out lazy travelers or those visiting an area for the first time who would more easily find this website compared to local club or individual websites.

Leaders:  Most Popular Options

By now, its defacto information that both the proprietary Yaesu Fusion and the quasi open standard multivendor DMR options are by far the most popular.   Low cost equipment helps drive the reasons which justify having more repeaters for these modes.

In the last year, there have been no major developments for new mobile or handheld equipment aside from some small refreshes on existing models like the popular Anytone or Alinco DMR radios. Yaesu has only given us the FT-5DR and FTM-200DR which is pretty good considering they are the only company that makes fusion capable radios which can be used on its 3200+ strong network of repeaters.



P25 is a commercial standard and is not marketed directly to amateur radio operators in any off the shelf non-professional grade equipment, but its growth rate is very strong. Based on how long it took for D-Star by Icom to become popular before flattening out, could we see P25 or NXDN become the dominant force in digital modes?   The answer is likely not, but that is where a new mode called M17 will come into play.

More then digital voice:  M17

All the digital modes mentioned all can do some other tricks beyond just voice communications.  Icom D-Star probably has the most advanced options from sharing location, photo, text and more with other users who have Icom equipment or the no longer made Kenwood TH-D74.

Yaesu Fusion really misses the mark to some degree, but most Fusion radios support analog APRS which increases interoperability for certain use cases.  There are a few DMR radios with very basic analog and digital APRS functions.

M17 which is absent for now on the digital repeater list promises us a true open digital standard for voice with some additional tricks up its sleave such as location sharing or text messaging.

The what's next

This would be a complex opinion based discussion, so lets use the airwaves or social media to discuss this fun stuff instead. Doink! 


Monday, July 11, 2022

HOPE: Global Digital Repeater Round Up 2022

 

Life has been busy for Steve K2GOG and that is reflected in the lack of recent blog entries on HVDN Notebook.  This post "should" have happened in late May or early June, but that was not possible due to 1,000 other distractions such as our Hudson River Radio Relay on June 11th, ARRL Field Day on June 25/26, a new job, countless family adventures and other stuff..

However, lets get things back on track here since it has now been five years since HVDN began and this is an appropriate way to re-energize with HVDN readers via our twice a year global digital repeater roundup series. Look for more stuff coming soon plus BIG news regarding HVDN if you live in the Hudson Valley of New York.

First off, let me apologize for having to use July 10th 2022 data to provide the 1H22 reporting data.

This extra month plus a few extra days should not really throw anything too far off, since its still clear that the total global digital repeater mode leader in volume is DMR. However, P25 is the true leader if we look at overall CAGR.

As noted in the table above, data is shown from May of 2018 and through July of 2022.  Measurements are taken every end of May and end of October.  Raw data per mode is shown for each period and CAGR was calculated for the May and October periods independently. An average of both periods can be found at the far right of the table.

The below table shows the included 2016 data if you were wondering how long we have been tracking things if you are a new reader and missed the past nine other articles. 




Report:  What has happened in digital voice since October 2021?

Well this is rather interesting to say the least. In our October 2021 edition, I predicted some growth projections as found in "SPECIAL EDITION: 10,000+ Digital Repeaters - October 2021 Global Digital Repeater Roundup" and I was not "too" wrong.  

Estimates I predicted last October for May of 2022 included:

  • Yaesu Fusion Global Repeaters = 3135 forecast (Actual 3218)
  • Icom D-Star Global Repeaters = 2429 forecast (Actual 2471)
  • DMR Global Repeaters = 4009 forecast (Actual 2003)
  • P25 Global Repeaters = 569 forecast (Actual 630)
  • NXDN Global Repeaters = 160 forecast (Actual 167)

Lets first talk about Yaesu Fusion's latest developments.  My guess is that the latest crop of radios which have come to market over the last 8-9 months may have pushed some clubs or repeater trustees to put up some additional repeaters to support the people who paid money for digital technology. 

A few radios like the mobile FTM-300DR and FTM-200DR plus FT-5DR handheld added to an existing pool of equipment available with C4FM capability.  The strategy of "Make more Fusion radios" is probably working well for Yaesu as a single vendor ecosystem.  Go Yaesu! You blew past my forecast!

Yaesu FTM-200DR pictured which retails for around $380 USD
and is competitive against other digital mode offerings for competition modes


Oh, sad sad Icom.  Will you figure things out when it comes to D-Star? To your credit, I was surprised just a little as I had expected that you would lose repeaters according to repeaterbook.com but you did actually gain a few. 

Now I am not sure if all 2471 around the world are actually active and if repeaterbook.com removes incorrect data as frequently as they should.  I do know that when traveling not every D-Star repeater is on the air though....so your secret is safe with me for now.

Maybe people who now have the super fun Icom IC-705 and IC-9700 have put pressure on magical repeater gnomes to conjure up a few more repeaters to use those expensive radios on or the new handheld ID-52 which finally is shipping. Maybe this is true, but CAGR still does not lie.  

Hovering around 1% CAGR is not fun to see, but perhaps if some cost effective equipment that supports D-Star ever comes to market, that should change things like we see with Fusion and DMR.

Be honest, did you buy a $1700+ Icom IC-9700 radio to talk on your local repeater?
If yes, I would love to hear about that


Ok, now for the record, I currently own more D-Star capable radios than I do for DMR. However, DMR is the mode I use the most still when I have time to play radio.  

The Alinco DJ-MD5XTG continues to be my favorite "ham" grade DMR radio and I sort of wish something more expensive and with features like the D-Star Kenwood TH-D74 or Yaesu FT-5DR would come to market. The RFinder B1 is a really cool radio which supports DMR but I am not interested in a smartphone based device for $1000 USD.  

With continued impressive repeater growth numbers for DMR, most people probably are using Anytone or Alinco equipment plus who ever is still supporting TYT and Radioddity based equipment.  The key thing here is that lower cost gear gave DMR a boost and repeater ninjas knew what to invest in.

For DMR, there is even a rather good  Under $30 basic radio called the COTRE CO01D which only can program 16 channels, but otherwise is great to use with a hotspot on limited talk groups. It is doubtful we will ever see a competing D-Star option at this price since the JARL license for D-Star is 2-3x the cost of just one of these radios. 


Alinco offers the MD520 which offers dual band 2m/70cm plus 220 MHz and VHF air receive. Anytone has a comparable D578UVIII for sale at around the same price. Both compete with the Fusion radios for close to the same price.


I was really close to my P25 prediction and was only off by 1. That is actually pretty nice.. Growth of P25 is fueled by surplus commercial equipment. NXDN is pretty much the same story and actual versus predicted growth from October 2021 to today  Not much really to talk about for equipment since options for new gear are from commercial companies only and surplus options are too varied to discuss.

The growth of P25 is interesting to continue to see though. As more municipalities change radio systems around, it should be interesting to see how P25 and NXDN evolve within amateur radio.

M17:  Will it happen ever?

Being nice here, but I own 3 total M17 T-shirts, a bunch of stickers and a semi-functional TYT MD-380 converted to be used via hotspot for this open source FDMA based mode.   I have yet to find people local to me to try simplex M17 to M17 but have done that at a hamfest.  

Every day that goes by  possibly gets us closer to off the shelf turn key equipment for M17 and I am hopeful that this mode explodes once it has some reliable equipment to support it. The back end infrastructure to connect repeaters to is already in place and a few "test" repeaters are sort of available to a few people. 

To help keep M17 top of mind,  presentations can be found all over the place and the upcoming HOPE conference will feature at least two of them talking about this open source mode. 

Feel free to check out open source RF experimentation at 10:00 AM Saturday July 23rd co-presented by Steve K2GOG and Joe NE2Z plus a much more legit one about M17 scheduled along with so many great ones found at https://scheduler.hope.net/new-hope/schedule/# 


HOPE 2022 is going to be epic and hope you can make it in person or virtually





Thursday, April 21, 2022

почта from Russia: Fixing the FT-897 Display

FT-897 replacement display

As the Hudson River Radio Relay event gets ever closer, I wanted to finally get around to fixing the "zebra stripes" on my Yaesu FT-897 display so that it would be easier to use again in the field while on Bannerman's Island as N2B on June 11th.

Replacement LCD display modules and controller sourcing for this 18+ year old radio has not been easy. Luckily, there is an enterprising amateur named Aleksey in Russia who has designed a replacement and it only cost around $60 USD.

When Yaesu designed the mobile FT-857 and the multi use FT-897 radios, roughly 10 years later many users started to suffer display issues like pictured below. Now my radio was ready for a facelift! 


Not all, but many Yaesu FT-857 and FT-897
have suffered from "zebra striping" on the LCD displays


The bad news is when I finally found out about the miracle replacement display,  there were some issues starting to take shape in February 2022 in the region, which I shall not yet name.

Quickly, Aleksey rushed to the post office to hopefully get the package out of country before worse things could happen. After weeks of lead up, Russian military crossed the Ukrainian borders on February 24th. 


Display has arrived. Now what?

Amazingly, the two piece kit made it across the United States in only 3 days according to USPS after its 48 day customs event between Russia and the destination. Here is what arrived, well packed in bubble wrap. Thanks Aleksey R3ZI! 


FT-897 replacement display
The new LCD with attached ribbon cable along with the
new LCD controller on flexible PCB with connector thanks to R3ZI

After dissembling the front  of the FT-897 and separating it entirely from the radio body, all else was needed to remove the seemingly infinite number of screws holding the control board to the face.

It was rather easy to access the old LCD display and start preparing for surgery.

FT-897 replacement display
The old LCD display still set within the
white plastic holder prior to removal

FT-897 replacement display
Tilting the display up exposed the ribbon cable and the
connections which will need to be desoldered carefully 


I used a hot air SMD rework station to remove the old ribbon connections since I wanted to be careful to not lift off any of of the PCB traces on the main display board of the FT-897D.  I could have just as easily used a standard pencil iron, but when you have the means.....

Extraction was a success and a little clean up was needed to prepare for the new display controller to be attached.


FT-897 replacement display
A little more clean up was needed and what appears to be
a missing trace was intentionally blank.  Sigh of relief

I took some solder flux and solder paste and prepared the surface to receive the new flexible controller.

A quick wave of the hot air tool melted the solder into all the right places and the moment of truth in restoring display visibility was now one step closer.  

The new flexible PCB with controller is connected and now just waiting for the ribbon cable for the LCD to be attached and the radio to be reassembled. A thin bead of hot glue was put over the connections for extra security.


FT-897 replacement display

Pushing the power button

I was confident in my work and decided to just put everything back together and not try to do some sort of  "preliminary" power up test to see if everything worked the way it should.   

The moment after getting the radio fully re-assembled, applying power, connecting antenna and then taking a breath before pushing the power button was met with success as shown below. 

Thanks for reading and my goal was to NOT do some sort of step by step video or make it easy for you to find out where and from whom I sourced the display, but I promise you that this info is easy to find and is an easy project if you plan carefully.  

Hope to catch some of you from Bannerman's Island via this radio on June 11th.  Will be focusing on 17m SSB and 17m digital modes most likely as part of the N2B station.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

UNDR Group Experiments with KG-STV

 



There is a great reason for sharing an image like that and no, those black boxes are not censorship but bad pixels when receiving a KG-STV image over amateur radio.

Why send images?

The Ulster and Northern Dutchess Readiness Group is a new organization founded in 2021 to promote ways for the casual radio amateur to learn about preparedness.  

ARES and RACES programs are excellent, but not everyone has the time to dedicate to those or the missions that sometimes prevent a higher level  of local community awareness regarding amateur radio.

Sharing photos for reasons such as training for public works damage assessment or other "grid down" information sharing reasons is an important skill to learn as part of the amateur radio hobby.

Sending photos over a repeater

To help differentiate UNDR Group, the leadership team led by Steve K2GOG has focused on practicing the use of slow scan television (SSTV) images which can be relayed through analog repeaters in the Hudson Valley.

Since October 2021, the UNDR group has found that the PD90 mode is a good trade off between resolution and time needed to send an image with excellent clarity.  A 320 x 240 pixel image sing PD90 takes about 90 seconds from start to finish.

In April 2022, the UNDR Group did an experiment simulating the need to send, receive and re-broadcast an image pretending there was a UFO sighting over the Hudson Valley.


Poughkeepsie UFO,  Highland UFO, Pine Bush UFO
Captured and then rebroadcast SSTV
PD90 image of a pretend UFO over the Hudson Valley
(Courtesy: K2GOG, W2NDG and KD2SQO)

Evolving to digital SSTV

Now that enough members of the UNDR Group have perfected the ability to send and receive images from home or the field using analog SSTV, they have just moved over to learning how to send digital versions of imagery using the KG-STV application.

With normal analog SSTV, one line of the image is sent at a time, scanning from left to right.  As the images is transmitted, those receiving it slowly start to see the image come into view. There are many modes of analog SSTV such as ROBOT36, PD90, SCOTTIE and others. 

KG-STV is different since it is sent digitally in a group of pixels at a time. The sender can choose to send these blocks of pixels in vertical or horizontal rows plus in a randomized sequence.

Sending in a randomized sequence is interesting since it prevents some types of interference or missing large pieces of an image.

Here are two examples of decoding the MARS logo which Steve K2GOG sent as part of an awareness exercise of the Military Auxiliary Radio System.  

This volunteer group managed by U.S Department of Defense via the Army and Air Force has taken a renews interest in collaborating with amateur radio operators for joint readiness exercises.


 


The image above decoded by Tom N2FZC shows only slight pixilation and the image below from Lou KD2TVS shows a bit more given he is much further away from the repeater compared to Tom which relayed the signal 




For a first time test of KG-STV, this was still a great start as it took on average of 6 times using analog for UNDR Group members to get near perfect copy. 

The reason to experiment with KG-STV is that the application can also send text communications which makes it a valuable tool for when audio communications may not be appropriate. 

When does UNDR Group meet?

Every Monday evening at 8:00 PM Eastern Time is the UNDR Net via the WA2MJM 146.805 analog repeater.  The UNDR Net typically shared a list of announcements including upcoming events at the start and the follows a short thematic discussion. 

At around 8:30 PM, the focus shifts to a form of digital communications which can be shared via the analog repeater.  Different forms of SSTV are the current focus, so please check it out as no other organizations are doing anything else like this in the Hudson Valley and possibly in a larger part of the New York Metro area.

More information about UNDR Group can be found at www.undr-group.com