11 July, 2023

The State of Local D-STAR and My Reflections - KB3KAI

Having worked with D-STAR on my ICOM ID-880H for a month, here are my initial observations and reflections about D-STAR, and if it’s right for me.

One of the main reasons I purchased this radio was to participate in digital D-STAR on the local repeaters.  The closest repeater to me at 9.7 miles is KC3FHC in Forest Hill, Harford County, MD.  I can communicate on it, but receive signal is very low.  The next closest repeater at 16 miles is W3DHS in Towson, Baltimore County, MD.  This repeater gives me a much stronger full scale receive signal.

Both repeaters are linked to reflector REF062C.  I have yet to hear any local traffic on the Harford County repeater.  Baltimore County has some local traffic, regular emcomm nets and a weekly D-STAR net, all of it connected to a reflector.  This makes the conversation reachable by any other ham in the world with a connected D-STAR radio, hotspot or dongle device.  In practice, it seems there is no real need to connect via RF when I could simply dingle a dongle.

The Baltimore repeater is routinely connected to other reflectors when there are interesting nets such as the PAPA System D-STAR net and Ham Nation After-Show D-STAR net and others, which is cool.  But the thing I find annoying is sometimes, while listening to a conversation via the Baltimore repeater, it is suddenly changed to another reflector.  No announcement, no warning.  It’s like someone changing the channel while you’re watching TV.  This is yet another reason for me to consider using a dongle – I would be in full control of which reflector to join, anytime I want.

The ICOM D-STAR ID-880H radio performs very well and is a good choice.  But I have found, at least in my personal situation, the digital D-STAR capabilities are not really necessary if a dongle will do the same job.

My next step is to purchase a Star*DV USB device from MoenComm.  This device works with software to connect to any REF*, DCS* or XRF* D-STAR reflector.  You communicate using your computer’s built-in sound card, headset, or an external speaker-mic – no D-STAR radio needed.  Once I set it up I will try using it for a week or two, and if I am happy with the performance, may decide to change radios.  More on that later.