D-STAR is a digital voice protocol initially developed by the Japan Amateur Radio League in the late 1990's. Rather than reproduce the history of D-STAR here, you can check out the Wikipedia article, or the D-STAR Info website. D-STAR is extremely flexible and easy to use, once you get over the initial learning curve. The audio quality is comparable to the other digital modes, and there are a ton of D-STAR repeaters on the air. As with other digital voice modes, D-STAR on simplex is also pretty amazing.
Getting started with D-STAR
The first step to getting started with D-STAR is selecting your preferred radio. At this time you have the choice between Icom and Kenwood. It can be a tough decision to make. I personally own an Icom ID-51a Plus and an Icom ID-5100a. These are both excellent radios. However, the Kenwood has some compelling features that many find desirable. I recommend plenty of research before you make your decision.
Once you have your radio, you will be very excited to get on the air. This is where things can get very frustrating. Some areas have many D-STAR repeaters that are fully operational, and others have none. The repeaters that are running may or may not have an Internet connection, which will dictate whether they are able to link to reflectors (more on reflectors below). The first thing to do is configure the radio. Lets keep this simple, and start with one repeater and you can build from there. Head on over to Repeaterbook and find a repeater close to you. Here is an example of a proximity search from my area, filtered on the 70cm band and D-STAR feature selected. Many D-STAR radios have a repeater list and a GPS, and can semi-automatically select a close repeater. If you don't have a repeater in your area, all is not lost, see the section below on hotspots.
Operating on D-STAR requires that you have several parameters configured correctly in your radio. This is where the power and flexibility of D-STAR really comes through. You can change these parameters to talk to only one other station, or a large group of people connected to a reflector. There are a number of great resources available for operating information. Rather than recreate those, here are some handy links:
- D-STAR 101: What is D-STAR?
- D-STAR 101: D-STAR Basic Operation
- Rob Locher W7GH: D-STAR Quick Start Guide
- Nifty E-Z Guide to D-STAR Operation
Sample D-STAR Audio. This is an example of D-STAR and DMR audio transcoding.
It would be foolish to try and reinvent the wheel. Rather than coming up with my own guide to reflectors I will instead direct you to "Reflections on Reflectors" authored by Bob W6KD. Here I will simply summarize the information contained in that guide.
If you don't want to read the guide (I really encourage you to do so), know there are different types of reflectors available with different capabilities. They are identified by a 6 character name, and a seventh character indicating the module. For instance XRF002A is an X-Reflector, module A. There are also REF, DCS, and XLX reflectors. To use the REF reflectors, you must first successfully register your call sign with a system known as "US Trust". It is important to note that you only need to register one time on one registration server and it will replicate to all REF reflectors. Registration instructions are here, and a registration portal is here.
You will find that there are a ton of reflectors out there, I will provide links to reflector lists below. The question then becomes, where is everyone? One place you can watch for activity is on ircDDB live. There you can view a live stream of traffic as it happens. If the station is using a reflector, you will see that listed in the appropriate column. Another location for live updates is D-STARUsers.org, which also has a last heard list.
- D-STAR Info: REF Reflector List
- X Reflector Directory
- XLX Reflector List NOTE: This list is available on any XLX reflector.
If you find yourself in a situation where there is no D-STAR repeater in your area, all is not lost. You can easily obtain what is known as a "hotspot", but might better be called a "personal repeater", or a "personal access point" since it is a simplex device. There are many options available for hardware and software. What I prefer is to use a Raspberry Pi with an MMDVM "modem" attached to it. You can find examples of this hardware arrangement in kit form. The Raspberry Pi/MMDVM combination also has several software packages ready to go. If you want to run multiple digital modes on the same hotspot, check out Pi-Star. If you only intend to use D-STAR, check out D-STAR Commander. Both of these software packages are well supported.
to be continued...
If you did any research on D-STAR before you bought the radio, you might have heard of callsign routing. This feature of D-STAR has been included in the protocol from the beginning, and is meant for stations to establish a "direct like" connection between each other. QuadNet is one very clever implementation of this protocol. QuadNet uses callsign routing for stations to connect to a smart group, where all stations subscribed to the group can hear each other. Rather than try to recreate the already excellent description of this service, I will refer you to the QuadNet2 USA IRC Network page.
As mentioned in the QuadNet section above, callsign routing is a feature that has been included in the D-STAR protocol from the very beginning and is intended to provide stations to connect directly to each other. However, this feature isn't without its problems. All these problems can be avoided by following a specific protocol before attempting callsign routing. The main issue with callsign routing is that you don't know where the other station is connected, and if that station is currently in a conversation before you make the attempt. Jeff VE6DV recently posted an informative article on Facebook describing how to use callsign routing effectively
Originally posted to the D-STAR Users Facebook Group by Jeff VE6DV
I thought I would make a quick post talking about proper call sign routing. For those not familiar, call sign routing is where you place the call sign of the person that you want to talk with in the your call field of your radio and key your mic. The system then looks up that call sign and then routes your transmission to their last known location on the D-STAR network. Call sign routing in the blind is never a good idea. I highly recommend contacting that person on a reflector or smart group first. Once you establish contact, then move to call sign routing.
The reason I suggest this method is that blindly call sign routing to someone can interrupt a conversation that is already taking place. For example, if the person you want to talk with is talking with someone on a reflector and you call sign route to them, your transmission will push its way into the conversation and you won't even know that you are causing interference. However, if you were to call on a reflector or smart group that you know that they would be monitoring, you can then move off of that reflector and continue using routing in a similar way that you would move off of a busy repeater to a simplex frequency to allow other people to use that busy repeater.
Another thing to keep in mind is if you call sign route, the other person may not be able to easily tell that you are using call sign routing to call them. On my ID-880H for example, the routed transmission looks like it is coming from the reflector I am connected to. So I may reply to your call on the reflector which then causes everyone on the reflector to hear a one sided conversation.
Routing is a great tool that we can use to keep in touch with D-STAR. However if used improperly, it can cause major headaches and give routing a bad reputation in the D-STAR community.
The Constellation Nets
The Constellation of D-STAR reflectors, are a group of linked 4th generation X-Reflectors. Their A modules are all linked, linking to any A module from your hotspot or local repeater will let you listen to all of them. The reflectors are XRF002A, XRF310A, XRF555A, and XLX313A. XLX313 is also capable of transcoding between D-STAR and DMR. For more information about transcoding, check this out.
- D-STAR Roundtable; Thursday at 1900 US Pacific time (Friday 0200 UTC during US daylight savings time or 0300 UTC during US standard time). More information is available at http://roundtable.tech.
- The Powersports Net; Tuesday at 1900 US Central time (Wednesday 0000 UTC during US daylight savings time or 0100 UTC during US standard time). More information is available at http://powersportsnet.boards.net, and also in the Facebook Group.
- The Truckers, Travellers, and RV'ers net; Wednesday at 1900 US Central time (Wednesday 0000 UTC during US daylight savings time or 0100 UTC during US standard time). Follow the Facebook Group for more information.
- The Minnesota D-STAR Net; Sunday at 1930 US Central time on REF053A.
- The Iowa D-STAR Net; Saturday at 2030 US Central time on REF053A.
- The D-STAR Users Net Saturday at 1800 US Mountain time on XRF757A. Follow the Facebook Group for more information.
- A list of nets can also be found on D-STAR Info/Nets.
- X Reflector Directory
- D-STAR Users Facebook Group
- QuadNet2 USA IRC Network
- Emergency Minnesota Amateur Radio Disaster Data Network