Sunday, December 27, 2020

So how is NXDN doing these days?

In May 2019, I wrote an article entitled "NXDN: What is it and where is it?". I predicted at the time that this other commercial digital voice mode would start to see some more growth within the amateur radio community and here we now are roughly 18 months later and my theory was correct.

As of December 27th 2020, there are now a global total of 3,657 registered NXDN users via the website. 

While this is a healthy 86.2% increase since 2016,  the volume of users compared to DMR is still much smaller.  The current number of global registered amateur DMR users is up to 182,082 for comparison.

These two points illustrate that amateur radio operators want another option over the closed source Yaesu Fusion and Icom D-Star options that were designed for amateur radio people who want to experiment with digital voice technology.

Why is NXDN growing?

If you have a digital hotspot like one of many Pi-Star based options or the Shark RF Open Spot series, chances are you have encountered the "mode translation" functions that allows a user of certain types of modes to talk to others with a different capability radio on the other end.

Technically speaking, the best digital voice mode is Yaesu's C4FM FDMA based Fusion if you want to transcode to other digital voice modes, but it offers no digital data capability like that of D-Star or DMR.  DMR is the second most popular mode to transcode with, even though it also has the most users and repeaters globally. Here are the current transcoding options in Pi-Star.

Surplus commercial NXDN radios have become more inexpensive today and many amateur radio operators may decide to purchase NXDN native equipment after they realized a better experience can be had by not using mode translation thanks to a hotspot. 

The rise of NXDN is further validated in the details behind this article below.

NXDN Repeaters

Twice a year, I take a look at the repeater book website and compile data to track the growth of digital voice mode repeaters globally and I have been doing this since 2016. 

Chances are if someone is willing to invest in building a repeater, usually that means that there are users that will help make use of that investment.  

My work helps look at these trends over time to help the amateur radio community decide where they should invest in when it comes to digital voice capabilities. 

This also helps those interested in deploying repeaters so as to help make robust area wide communication networks that will have some level of interoperability.

According to since October 2016 to present, there has been a 70.7% increase in NXDN repeaters globally, but that translates to only 140 repeaters today compared to the 82 of them four years ago.  

Two NXDN repeaters have been added since our October 2020 Global Digital Repeater article

111 of the 140 NXDN repeaters can be found in North America, so this growth around NXDN repeaters seems isolated to only part of the world. 

These NXDN repeater numbers still are almost like a rounding error compared to the explosive growth we have seen with DMR, but times may be changing based on user growth patterns.

One would think on the surface that this is not important, but it actually is when looking at the next generation of digital voice that will take over from TDMA based DMR and will likely be an FDMA based option.

Outside the top 10 NXDN repeater states, 38.7% of remaining repeaters account for the other 43 across North America. Two of the top ten actually fall within Canada.

Users & Repeaters

If you happen to live in the top 3 of Florida, Massachusetts or Arkansas, it seems that the theory of comparing registered users to the number of repeaters is pretty darn accurate, but with a few exceptions.

In North America, there are a total of 1386 registered users in North America that are not living in one of the top 10 NXDN repeater states. Out of of a North America total of 2186 registered NXDN users, that is 63% which is sort of interesting.

With a total of 782 total users living inside those top 10 destinations, there are a few states such as California (144), Texas (97), Ohio (84), New York (81), Alabama (68), Georgia (68) and Pennsylvania (67) which are intermixed among the top 10 of states with the most registered users but do not have a matching growth number of repeaters. Many of those users are likely just using NXDN over a hotspot rather than a repeater.

Considering that large populations of people and amateur radio operators live in many of those other top registered NXDN user states

Its probable that those would be the next likely places which will see more NXDN repeaters and then fuel a huge increase of registered NXDN users in those areas in the next few years. This will be the litmus point to look back on in another 12 months to see how things are headed for NXDN.

A great example to follow when thinking about successful NXDN deployments in Florida is the NI4CE system. Its no wonder now why NXDN is popular in parts of Florida and some of the neighboring states of Alabama and Arkansas.  Feel free to comment below if you live in Florida and care to share some tips with New York, as we know there are many transplants down there. 

Are you saying I need to buy a NXDN radio?

The good news is that many MMDVM based DMR repeaters can easily switch over to NXDN with a few simple software changes. The bad news is that if you bought a DMR radio, you will not be able to use that on a DMR repeater.

For the best answer about what to purchase, stick with DMR for now unless NXDN is popular in your area. If a vendor offers a NXDN radio at prices like we have seen with DMR, that is what will make NXDN get even more popular, but its still at least a few years away.

Instead, have a look at the M17 standard which was invented by amateur radio operators and is FDMA based just like NXDN and Yaesu Fusion.  

While none of these modes are cross compatible, it does show that the evolution of digital voice is likely to be FDMA based and a multi vendor ecosystem like we have seen with the TDMA based DMR will need to be part of it.

NXDN and DMR will help pave the way for M17 unless Yaesu and Icom decide to get with the plan. Even Alinco has been focused on DMR and even has commercial NXDN equipment already on offer.

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