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The Internet of Digital Radio

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by VK6FLAB, Jun 2, 2018.

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  1. VK6FLAB

    VK6FLAB Ham Member QRZ Page

    Foundations of Amateur Radio

    The Internet of Digital Radio

    The topic of how radio evolves and embraces available technology is one that describes the hobby itself. From spark-gap through AM, SSB and FM our community picked up or invented solutions to make communication possible. When the internet came along it too became a tool ripe for picking and in 1997 a connection between a radio and the internet was made with the Internet Radio Linking Project or IRLP when Dave VE7LTD, a student at the University of British Columbia, joined the UBC Amateur Radio Society. Using a radio, some hardware and a computer, you could send audio between radios across the internet.

    Since then this field has exploded with D-STAR, Echolink, DMR, AllStar, Wires, CODEC2, System Fusion and Brandmeister.

    At a glance they're all the same thing, radio + internet = joy.

    Looking closer there are two distinct kinds of internet radio contraptions, those where the radio is digital and those where it's not. IRLP is an example of an analogue radio connecting to hardware that does the encoding into digital and transmission across the internet. At the other end the reverse process, decoding, happens and another analogue radio is used to hear the result. This encoding and decoding is done by a piece of software called a CODEC.

    If we continue for a moment down the analogue path, Echolink, AllStar and Wires do similar things. In 2002 Echolink made its way onto the scene, similar to IRLP, but it didn't need any specialised hardware, any computer running the Echolink software could be used as both a client and a server, that is, you could use it to listen to Echolink, or you could use it to connect a radio to another Echolink computer.

    AllStar, which started life in 2008 went a step further by making the linking completely separate. It uses the metaphor of a telephone exchange to connect nodes together, which is not surprising if you know that it's built on top of the open source telephone switching software Asterisk.

    In 2012 or so, Yaesu introduced Wires which is much like Echolink and AllStar. There are servers with rooms, not unlike chat rooms, where you connect a node to and in turn your radio.

    Blurring the lines between these technologies happened when you could build a computer that spoke both IRLP and Echolink at the same time. Now you can also add AllStar to that mix.

    Essentially these systems do similar things. They manage switching differently, handle DTMF differently, use a different audio CODEC and handle authentication in a variety of ways, but essentially they're ways of connecting normal hand-held radios, generally FM, to each other via the internet using intermediary computers called nodes. Before you start sending angry letters, I know, there's more to it, but I've got more to tell.

    While Dave was busy in Canada inventing IRLP back in the late 1990's, in Japan the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications funded research, administered by the Japan Amateur Radio League into the digitisation of amateur radio. In 2001 that research resulted in what we know today as D-STAR. Two years later, ICOM started developing D-STAR hardware which resulted in actual physical radios less than a year later. Today you can get D-STAR hardware from ICOM, Kenwood and FlexRadio Systems.

    Unlike the other technologies where the audio was converted at a central place, in D-STAR the audio is encoded in the radio and a digital signal is sent across the airwaves. That in turn means that the software that does the encoding, the CODEC, needs to be inside the radio. Since the information is digital right from the point of transmit, you can send other information, like GPS locations and messages along with the audio.

    In 2005 DMR started life as a group of companies, now up to around 40, agreeing on some standards for digital audio in much the same way as D-STAR. Mostly in use by commercial users, DMR has the ability to have two users simultaneously on-air using alternate channels by having separate time slots for each channel, alternating between the two of them. They agreed to use the same CODEC to ensure compatibility. Formal interoperability testing has been happening since 2010, but because DMR allows manufacturers to build in extra features many brands cannot actually work together on the same network.

    For many years D-STAR and DMR-MARC, the DMR Motorola Amateur Radio Club World Wide Network, were the main digital radio systems around in amateur radio. That changed in 2013 when Yaesu introduced System Fusion. It too made digital audio at the radio, but it added a wrinkle by making it possible to have both analogue and digital audio on the same repeater. Depending on how the repeater is configured, analogue and digital radios can coexist and communicate with each other.

    The Wires system that Yaesu rolled out was upgraded in 2016, renamed to Wires X and now also incorporates digital information to allow the linking of their System Fusion repeaters.

    In 2014 at the Ham Radio Exhibition in Friedrichshafen in Germany, Artem R3ABM planned to make an alternative master server for DMR+ and DMR-MARC and the result was a German wordplay which we know today as Brandmeister. It acts as a network for digital radios in much the same way as DMR, but it's run as an open alternative to the commercially available options made by Motorola and Hytera.

    The story isn't complete without mentioning one other development, CODEC2. It started in 2008 when Bruce Perens K6BP contacted Jean-Marc Valin, famous for the SPEEX audio compressor and David Rowe VK5DGR about the proprietary and patented nature of low data use voice encoders such as those in use in D-STAR, DMR and System Fusion. David had already been working in this area a decade earlier and started writing code.

    In 2012 during Linux Conference Australia, Jean-Marc and David spent some time together hacking and managed to make a 25% improvement and CODEC2 was well under way. Today CODEC2 forms the basis of several projects including FreeDV in software, the SM1000 FreeDV adaptor in hardware and the roadmap for the future of open and free digital voice is bright.

    I should mention that this information is specifically brief to give you an overview of the landscape and hopefully I've not made too many glaring errors, but feel free to drop me a line if you do find a problem.

    Digital radio and the internet, it's not just a single mode, a whole cloud of modes, and I haven't even started with WSPR, FT8 or JT65.

    I'm Onno VK6FLAB

    To listen to the podcast, visit the website: and scroll to the bottom for the latest episode. You can also use your podcast tool of choice and search for my callsign, VK6FLAB, or you can read the book, look for my callsign on your local Amazon store, or visit my author page:

    If you'd like to participate in discussion about the podcast or about amateur radio, you can visit the Facebook group:

    Feel free to get in touch directly via email:, or follow on twitter: @VK6FLAB (

    If you'd like to join the weekly net for new and returning amateurs, check out the details at, the net runs every week on Saturday, from 00:00 to 01:00 UTC on Echolink, IRLP, AllStar Link and 2m FM via various repeaters.
    K5WRN, VK5AAX, N8DLL and 3 others like this.
  2. VK5AAX

    VK5AAX Ham Member QRZ Page

    Very informative thank you for helping me increase my knowledge Onno .
  3. KI8W

    KI8W Ham Member QRZ Page

    Transmitting your voice over the internet is not "ham radio". Millions use applications like Skype and other VOIP applications with no license involved. Just because you use a radio to establish the link does not make it ham radio.

    I argue this point with the members of my local Ham Radio Club all the time.
    WM6L, VK3FNG, K8PG and 10 others like this.
  4. W1MDM

    W1MDM Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    it's a ham radio.
  5. G7PXK

    G7PXK Ham Member QRZ Page

    If passing signals down a cable is classed has amateur radio today, how come just about every amateur radio award would not allow digital contacts (DMR, Fusion etc) when claiming the said award. I play iracing on line i use a 2.5Ghz link to get into router then data and my voive comms are sent down the cable, i cannot imagine that you could call this amateur radio yet the proccess is just the same apart from the fact i dont need to use any expensive gear to get my comms down the cable.
    KF4ZKU, EI3GYB and KR3DX like this.
  6. W4EDF

    W4EDF Ham Member QRZ Page

    Is 70cm simplex ham radio? Yes. Is chatting with a fellow ham through a mountain-top 2 meter repeater ham radio? Of course. D-Star works perfectly well, and in some cases better, with these modes. No Internet required. It's as ham radio as RTTY or PSK31. What these new modes offer now is increased functionality that doesn't replace but adds additional features.

    I would agree that when it comes to contesting, a digital contact on an internet connected repeater shouldn't count but that's only because it's a contest and not because of it's lack of being ham radio. It would be like having a fishing competition at a hatchery; it's still fishing but it totally misses the point. So perhaps that would be a better argument for keeping D-Star and DMR out of contests.

    The local analog repeaters have been pretty quiet in my area but just last week I was talking with another ham in the UK while on my commute home from work. While it's true that our respective repeaters were connected via the internet, we both were communicating via UHF/VHF to our local repeaters to do so. Added to that, we had a great conversation about the hobby, which can be a rarity on HF with everyone chasing paper. I'm finding that these "internet connected" rag-chews over D-Star have me itching to take my HF rig out into the field even more. In a lot of ways, these reflectors have become my radio club.

    Having the reflectors available has also been helpful when practicing modes like D-RATS where I can use my laptop and mobile rig to transmit message traffic using D-STAR. This can be done using simplex or a local repeater, as mentioned before, and would be a very useful mode for an event or emergency exercise, as no internet is needed. Sure, I used an internet connected reflector to test my setup but that was more for the continence of having another ham to work with at the time.

    KR3DX and K9ASE like this.
  7. K3FHP

    K3FHP XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I beg to differ, digital modes ARE allowed for conteste. Fusion, D-Star and DMR are permitted as long it is radio to radio, not thro
    I beg to differ. Fusion, D-Star and DMR modes ARE permitted in digital contests as long as it is radio to radio, not through repeaters or wire line(internet, telephine, VOIP) connection. Where does it say otherwise?
  8. AC0OB

    AC0OB Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I find the whole concept of Internet of Digital Radio ridiculous. It appears to be outside the realm and scope of what ARS was intended to be.

    1) We have the Internet as a personal and business communications medium.

    2) We have ARS as a Hobby in which to communicate with other like minded ARS operators.

    3) Why use ARS to extend the Internet? The Internet does not need extending and is doing just fine without ARS.

    Follow the money.


    VK6NSB and VK6APZ/SK2022 like this.
  9. W4NNF

    W4NNF XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Post King Spark:

    "CW isn't ham radio."

    "AM isn't ham radio."

    "SSB isn't ham radio."

    "FM isn't ham radio."

    "Repeaters aren't ham radio."

    "FT8 isn't ham radio."

    And so it goes... ;)
    KF4ZKU likes this.
  10. W4NNF

    W4NNF XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    Digital contacts are most assuredly allowed. They just have to be direct without the aid of repeaters or the internet. ;)
  11. K2NCC

    K2NCC Ham Member QRZ Page

    So long as you think 1890 is what's intended. We've technologically advanced a bit since then.

    Sure, you can PTT and voice or Morse code just as we did 100 years ago, or you can let go of your nostalgia and learn to evolve and adapt.

    But some prefer to fall behind and bitch about how the bands are dead (using your preferred mode).

    Go where the action is sir, or you'll be rather lonely in your angst.
    K8PG likes this.
  12. K2NCC

    K2NCC Ham Member QRZ Page

    Since you said it Phil, I assume you have. Where's the specific profit in this?
  13. AK9S

    AK9S Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Excellent short article outlining the evolution of internet digital radio. Thank you for authoring.
    K2NCC likes this.
  14. G7PXK

    G7PXK Ham Member QRZ Page

    I thought common sense would prevail and people would understand i was talking about internet linked operations, i am sorry i did not make my point more understandable. W4NNF you seem to have focused on the word Ham, you have missed the point the key word is Radio. Internet linked operations is not Radio, i will no doubt be told that RF is involved but when i put todays lunch in the microwave RF will also be involved, by some peoples logic i could assume using my microwave is Ham radio. I dont know about the USA but here in England not many years ago the Radio was called The Wireless, i guess it was called the wireless for a reason.
  15. VK6APZ/SK2022

    VK6APZ/SK2022 Ham Member QRZ Page

    The wireless radio , i grew up with it and listened to the the Lone ranger and many old programs.
    On my transceiver i talk to people, hello is anybody home .

    Attached Files:

    VK6ATS likes this.

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