Yaesu thinks the future of ham radio is digital

A Digital Communications GuideYaesu thinks the future of ham radio is digital, and of course, that amateurs should adopt its digital mode (C4FM) over Icom’s (D-STAR). At least that’s what they say in their latest publication, A Digital Communications Guide for Amateur Radio Operators.

This publication claims several advantages for digital communications techniques, including:

  • reduced bandwidth,
  • digital data transfer,
  • better performance,
  • immunity to interference, and
  • product and system cost reduction.

It talks about some of the theory behind digital communications, explaining in relatively simple terms how the various modulation techniques work. Of course, it slams D-STAR:

Now, this method [GMSK] is considered old fashioned and no longer used by LMR [land mobile radio]. Currently, GMSK is still being used by D-STAR.

One problem I have with this publication is its implicit assumption that digital is better than analog, and that if we want to be “progressive” amateurs, we should all adopt digital communications techniques. I’m not all that convinced, and to its credit, Yaesu does concede that “analog FM can show an advantage over digital radio in some areas.”

I haven’t compared prices, but if the D-STAR radios are any indication, the prices of Yaesu’s digital radios are bound to be more expensive than the analog radios. I just don’t see that the added functionality is worth the extra cost.

What do you think? Do you think D-STAR or Yaesu’s C4FM will gain widespread acceptance anytime soon? Do you currently own a digital radio? If not, what would convince you to buy a digital radio?

 

Comments

  1. Norm, K6YXH says:

    I’ve had and used an Icom 92AD and a DV Dongle for a few years, and have a problem with the way repeater protocols are implemented – I just can’t tell what’s going on! There is some telemetry visible if I look at the display, but not when I’m driving.

    The problem is the lack of information that I get, compared to analog, especially through a repeater. For example, if someone is noisy into a repeater, I can tell that because when they drop their carrier, the noise goes away and I’m left with just the repeater’s signal (usually full quieting). So, someone can tell me if I’m strong (full quieting into the repeater) or not. And if the repeater is noisy, I know that I’ll probably be noisy too. But on D-STAR, I hear no noise. If I don’t get a response to my call, it could be that my microphone PTT is broken, my audio is turned down too low, my speaker came unplugged from the radio, my signal isn’t strong enough, I’m sitting on my microphone, I have something else set wrong on my end, that the Internet connection isn’t working at the repeater, or all of those things between the repeater and the guy who’s trying to answer my call. There’s no such thing on D-STAR as, “Your signal is weak, you’re going in and out of the repeater.” I would know what to do to correct that, but no one ever knows for sure if my signal is weak or something else is going on. D-STAR users make a big deal about not hearing beeps and not hearing noise, but it’s those beeps a noise that let me know what’s actually going on.

  2. This looks like a double edged sword to me. I have been waiting for someone to challenge Icom in the digital marketplace mostly because of their use of proprietary codex for D-Star. I have long thought that we have been late to the party embracing the use of digital formats on our VHF/UHF communications systems. There is a lot that can be done with digital I do however agree with Dan that it would be a mistake to assume that amateur radio will become a digital only domain. For one thing there are cases where analog would prove superior. Also there is not the financial incentive that there is in the LMR world business has to see a return on investment and public safety is driven in that direction in many cases by politics and the fact that they are spending others peoples money.

    I want to see amateur radio continue to give the general public a means to experiment in the area of wireless communications both analog and digital. Lets hope that today’s youngsters become to the digital world the same group from the previous generation that stripped down radio and television chassis’s to be reworked into home brew projects that were fun, provided an education and at times helped advance the state of the art. We could use more of those these days.

  3. Digital?? Oh you mean CW :)

    73

  4. Dave New, N8SBE says:

    So did Yaesu open its CMF4 protocol for everyone to use, patent- and royalty-free?

    If not, there’s nothing to see, just like Icom’s proprietary D-STAR protocol.

  5. Yaesu makes a interesting technical argument for the superiority of CMF4 over D-STAR but is anyone moaning about D-STAR’s inadequacy? Of course not. So it comes across as bluster from someone kept out of the game.

    There’s not a single D-STAR repeater in my local area (Rochester, NY) and I can’t imagine buying a D-STAR radio with capability I’m likely to never use. That would also go for CMF4.

    To me, amateur radio is all about interoperability. We can all talk to each other with out analog radios regardless of who makes them (or even if we homebrewed them). With both D-STAR and CMF4 you’re stuck to talking only with people who have the same brand radio you do (and how long before it also has to be the same version protocol?). Unless one standard arises, either because of technical superiority (not guaranteed) or market share, digital won’t ever replace analog for amateurs. I’m not holding my breath.

    • It’s amazing how much functionality is in a $46 dual-band, dual-display Baofeng – I couldn’t predict that a couple of years ago. So perhaps some day the Chinese will figure a way to package the P-25, Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom and Motorola CODECs and protocols into one radio that automatically detects the digital protocol and switches in the proper circuits – I’m picturing something like “AM/FM/CW/SSB/D-STAR/CMF4/P-25/…” as selectable modes. I say the Chinese rather than any of the major brands, because each has a vested interest in being incompatible with the rest, and the Chinese companies might not be bothered by the copyrights on the CODECs.

    • It is obvious that you know NOTHING about what you stated. There is NO protocol called CMF4 and the necessary hardware and software to product the universal protocols you listed are both expensive and in some cases incompatable.

      • Dan KB6NU says:

        I think this was my mistake. In the original post, I called Yaesu’s digital mode CMF4. It really should be C4FM. Sorry. I’ve edited the post to correct this error.

  6. The Chinese might not be bothered with such nicities as copyright and patents, but our customs folks have no sense of humor when it comes to such things.

    There has been a rising hue and cry from various corporate types that if we can’t get the Chinese to play nicely, they can’t (or won’t) compete.

    Don’t mean to start a big discussion about whether or not software patents should even exist, but the reality is that as long as they do, and no one (like the Ogg/Vorbis folks) are willing to promulgate a patent-free alternative, they are hampering wide-spread adoption.

    Imagine if Collins or some other early manufacturer of SSB equipment had somehow done an intellectual property grab and tried to prevent everyone else from adopting SSB, unless they licensed ($$$) it from them?

    In “Empire of the Air” (available on Netflix, and in my opinion the movie is better than the somewhat-more-flawed book), intellectual property struggles with the head of RCA eventually drove Armstrong, the inventor of FM, to suicide.

  7. DSTAR is capable of only DSTAR and the Icom hardware sucks badly. Those of us that have put up P25 and DMR repeaters with rock solid used commercial gear have the ability to interoperate seamlessly with both digital and analog users. It’s the best of both worlds. We welcome Yaesu’s entry into this market and look forward to seeing the new radios soon.

  8. Darwin Eschnich says:

    Just to be clear, are the gentlemen who mention “CMF4″ referring to “C4FM”?
    I want to clear that up because it’s slightly important. Here in the Bay area we operate numerous Mixed Mode P25/analog (C4FM/analog, that is) repeaters on 2m, 440 and 900 MHz and we find they work great. since we all listen in Mixed Mode, if one mode doesn’t work, you just switch to the other. In fact sometimes one guy talks in digital and the other talks in analog. I’ve bought numerous Motorola P25 radios of of the internet for considerably less than $200 and handed them out at cost to friends. It works just dandy for us. Of course your mileage may vary….

  9. I have been using D-Star and enjoy it. Once you have used it and know how to link to the various Reflectors world wide it is a wonderful thing. I can link to the repeater in Germany where I worked in the US Army and talk to them from a handy talky in Texas.
    The only problem is when 2 people talk at the same time, then it is garbled. FM radio (and sideband voice) you can hear everyone at the same time. This inability for 2 to talk at once will stop it from being used as an emergency system.

    I look forward to getting a Yeasu digital and wonder if it would be also possible to scan P25 signals with it. If so it will be a positive purchase. Mixed mode repeaters as Darwin mentions would be great. My 2 cents ((73)).
    _._ .. ….. _ _

  10. Digital is really a multifaceted discussion. I am really opposed to the proprietary compression/encoding used in D-Star and pretty much all other current digital offerings. It’s single-source from one manufacturer and there’s no legal way to build a chip, or a program on a microprocessor that can interoperate with radios that use their chip. There’s a computer program that can decode several modes, allegedly, including P25′s IMBE chip, but it’s not legal to use in the USA or most places in the world due to the patent issues.

    Then there’s the relative need for digital. There’s some neat stuff you can do with the D-star equipment, but the mode was designed over a decade ago. Some of the things it does is just completely bewildering. For instance, the digital modulation is 4800 baud GMSK. Can you use that entire bandwidth for data if you’re not sending voice packets? Nope! It’s not even the 1200-baud they claim, it’s more like 751 baud. And then it sends empty voice packets too, if you’re not talking. Digital voice in all the various forms just seems like someone decided to take analog modes of operation and digitize them. Well fine, but what else could we be doing with that if it was more flexible? At least there’s TDMA equipment that can give you two channels on a single repeater. Texting should be standard. It should be possible to send short voice messages over an unreliable link, or by being digipeated. Something like voicemail you record and it sends it when it can get the signal through. Where’s the possibility for MESH networks or other non-traditional repeater based communications? I should be able to have a mobile radio in my car that can boost the signal from a cellphone sized radio in my pocket. Which is compatible with Bluetooth headsets.

    There’s a lot of potential to digital modes, but so far the modes and the equipment haven’t even made it past mid-90′s in comparison to cell phone development. Speaking of, with the extremely high volume of production of cellphones, and the miniaturization of the components within, there’s no reason why manufacturers can’t leverage that and put some of the technology in our radios. For instance, there’s a single chip that handles Wifi, Bluetooth, FM radio in a cellphone. Put that in an HT or mobile, even analog radio, and you could support Bluetooth headsets, Wifi CAT control and memory transfer, and use or don’t use the FM broadcast radio receiver.. it doesn’t matter. The Wifi might need a CPU, but I’ve seen Wifi finders for keychains that use an 8051 chip to drive all their functions. There was even a website that someone put up talking about hacking one to check their email, years ago. If not that, witness the Raspberry Pi computer that will soon be out. It’s a complete SBC with a 700mhz ARM cpu that will sell for $25/$35 depending on if you want Ethernet or not.

    High-five to Yaesu, but I hope they don’t stop here.

    • Dan KB6NU says:

      Excellent comment, James. I’ve often wondered why someone hasn’t incorporated more cellphone technology into ham radio equipment. I guess that maybe the development costs are too high. That might be an opportunity for some ambitious, young hams, though.

  11. First, Yaesu’ claim that GMSK is outdated is simply silly. GMSK is the most used protocol in the world today with cell phones. Second, what Yaesu is probably introducing is nothing more than rehashed commercial methods. Great for them, but not for us. DStar was designed from the ground up as a digital protocol for amateur radio. Over 1,000 repeaters now worldwide. Who are you going to talk to with the Yaesu radios? DStar works and works very well. You can point out shortcomings with empty data streams when voice sent etc., but it does not impact anything. What data I send with DStar is fast and just works. Also, the dual channel capability is only good in smaller areas where repeaters are limited. In densely populated areas with a lot of repeaters, there isn’t enough bandwidth to accomodate the extra bandwidth required, so it is kind of useless. This is bound to start a price war though and I think Icom has the upper hand. Been out longer, great acceptance, designed for amateurs and plenty of third-party DStar gear. Both use proprietary codecs so no advantage to anyone there. And since Yaesu is a landmobile standard trying to be shoehorned into amateur radio, it will be interesting to see if they make use of callsigns for routing or some sort of serial number you have to try and remember. Going to be interesting, but I will not be buying into the Yaesu thingy.

  12. When they speak of TDMA, I’m just afraid of one thing: How will they achieve synchronisation between stations. If they think doing the same as in mobile networks, then it means we will need relays with a continuous beacon signal => wasted energy, electromagnetic pollution ! Otherwise, will have to have our rigs synchronised by GPS clocks ?
    I am tempted to think that analog remains a good mode for amateurs.
    If you think digital then think KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid)

  13. Digital does not work well around this QTH, too many hills, too many trees, being out performed by analogue FM. The TRX audio on my Icom 2820 was so poor I had to modify the mic and the rig. D-Star is about 16 years old and is not the future, whereas the Yaesu format seems to be the sensible choice amongst visionary manufacturers. Even their narrow clothes peg on the nose audio needs help, but the wide is not too bad. Digital is seriously overrated IMHO, and I won’t be going there again in a hurry!

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