Thursday, October 10, 2019

October 2019 Global Digital Repeater Round Up

Twice a year, HVDN tracks the total growth of digital voice repeaters.  Since 2016, there has been a tremendous increase of repeaters that support DMR, P25, NXDN, Fusion and D-Star digital voice amateur communication.  All but one of these modes are showing fantastic growth. Lets find out which...

October 2019 Global Digital Voice Repeater Roundup

According to data, DMR is the first digital voice mode to surpass the 3,000 repeater mark globally.

Just as long as those updating this website do so with accurate details, if you were traveling somewhere today and could only take one radio with you, a DMR radio along with its legacy analog FM capability would be the best choice followed by Yaesu Fusion and Icom D-Star. 

The chances are also higher that an area with more of one type of digital voice repeater may also have more simplex activity or non-internet connected digital voice repeaters, so it could not hurt to program appropriate digital voice channels or scan around for even more repeaters than what may list.

The P25 and NXDN commercial mode amateur radio repeaters are too limited on a global scale, but may have pockets of high activity in certain geographies. Any example of this from a NXDN perspective was covered in an HVDN article entitled "NXDN: What is it and where is it?" which may be be updated in the coming year.

Considering that both of these modes do not have any amateur market only equipment available, its still interesting to see higher percentage growth over the same time period compared to Icom D-Star, which is the oldest digital amateur voice mode currently available as detailed in a presentation on Digital Modes and Hot Spots given by Joe, N1JTA at the Trenton Computer Festival.

In a three year span from October 2016 to October 2019, here are the growth percentages of digital voice repeaters:

  • Yaesu Fusion = 80.43%
  • Icom D-Star =  17.64%
  • DMR = 101.94%
  • P25 = 108.45%
  • NXDN = 52.43%

Even though DMR is the most popular, Yaesu Fusion is close behind.  The best "audio" according to many is found on Fusion and also translates the best to other modes via Pi-Star, including P25.

It would also be wise to travel with one of the MMDVM Pi-Star "hot spot" devices which can fill in gaps where there is no repeater coverage, but where there is internet access.

The DMR and Fusion modes also offer the most flexibility for mode translation, which means that you can use a DMR or Fusion radio with a hot spot to "talk through" other mode networks such as all those listed here with little exception. Further detail on this can be found on the Pi-Star website.  Thanks to these two modes, we may see a growth of P25 and NXDN as a result. 

What drives digital voice repeater growth?

To access a repeater, you need a hand held or mobile digital voice radio.  Since a repeater is expensive, those who decide to install one often know that there are users with radios that may access the repeater.

Another driving reason for digital voice repeater growth is a wide array of equipment and cost points.  DMR has seen success because of lower cost "entry level" radios selling for as little as $60 USD such as the Baofeng DM-1801 or Radioddity GD-77, but also higher end equipment thanks to better quality radios marketed to both the amateur and commercial user too numerous to list here. 

Many vendors are also selling DMR equipment which creates more choice for buyers and this competition is a good thing should someone have had a personal bad experience with one vendor for one reason or another. 

Yaesu Fusion is the only mode that has only one vendor behind it, but offers equipment at various prices and incentives to entice buyers. This strategy has certainly helped Yaesu since prior to 2018, it followed the same "hold the price high" strategy that Icom has adopted.

Both Yaesu Fusion and DMR also offer different accessory options such as microphones, chargers and batteries to ensure a buyer stays within a particular brand of equipment. Yaesu generally has great fan's of its equipment and this was a smart move to ensure brand loyalty. A recent example of this was the same battery pack can be used with the FT-2DR and its latest FT-3DR model.

Icom is the majority equipment vendor for D-Star with only Kenwood having a single radio capable of this GFSK based digital voice mode.  The cost to license the underlying technology from the JARL is very high and has prevented other vendors from embracing this technology.

Impact 2020: The latest digital voice radios

There are two very exciting new digital voice radios just about to come to market directed at the amateur radio community. Both offer features not just for digital voice mode users, so these create two great ways for people to expand interest in different parts of the hobby.

The Icom IC-705 is the first highly portable D-Star radio that combines 2m and 70cm capability along with HF for long range communication.  This new radio also allows the Icom ID-51 handheld radio battery to be used with the IC-705, so for those that have this other radio and its accessories on hand, buying this radio for portable use could be a good long term decision.

The main market Icom is looking to gain market share in with this radio clearly is the market category that the Yaesu FT-817 expanded back in 2001 .  Both radios and the 2018 refresh version of the original FT-817 named the FT-818 have competition from Xiegu, Elecraft and a few others that sell portable QRP power HF equipment. Icom could make the IC-705 a real winner, but for every reason not related to D-Star.

There are many other reasons that make the IC-705 interesting, but are outside the scope of this article.  However, it was worth mentioning that Icom does appear to be trying to maintain ecosystem users since the Icom ID-51 has proven popular and could be a good way to sell many IC-705.

Looking at the DMR ecosystem, the long awaited Anytone AT-D578UVIII is going to offer a 2m/70cm model for outside of North America and a version with the 220 MHz 1.25m band in the United States and Canada.  Expected availability for purchase is now late October due to manufacturing issues given the current economical climate or other factors.

This mobile radio will also be the first DMR radio to offer true dual band. dual receive capability. While this radio lacks a remote head for more flexible installations in a vehicle, this radio will certainly become popular for many reasons, including use from a home location.

With the only other mobile DMR radios being somewhat limited, if Anytone has learned from past education, this radio is going to become very popular, very quickly.  Since a mobile radio offers extended range while mobile, this single radio may influence even more DMR repeaters to come online in 2020.

Digital Voice Repeater Outlook

Based on a global estimate of 19,500 analog repeaters, in time this number will shrink as equipment becomes not worth repairing or being able to be re-purposed for digital modes.  Digital repeaters may reach the total number of global analog repeaters one day, but will never truly replace nearly 40 years of analog advancements.  The official estimate of HVDN is that by the end of 2021, there should be over 11,000 digital voice amateur repeaters globally. 

Past Global Digital Repeater Round Up Articles

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