offered by ICOM only on its 1.2-GHz rig.(The 1.2-GHz radio also offers DVfor-mat, as well as conventional analog FM.)Rounding out the D-STAR system is a10-GHz backbone link that operates at 10Mb/s. This radio link is intended for link-ing repeaters together on the ham bandswithout depending on any phone line orInternet connection. The data rates listedfor these D-STAR formats are the nomi-nal bit rates, but the use of
Forward Error Correction (FEC)
means that the actualthroughput will be somewhat less.I’ll focus on D-STAR from the pointof view of a typical FM ham radio user,most likely operating on 146 MHz or 440MHz, using the DV D-STAR format.
D-STAR is an open protocol, but onethat was developed with amateur radio inmind. While being ham radio oriented,D-STAR still takes advantage of tech-nology and standards from other com-munications industries.Since D-STAR uses digital modula-tion, the analog voice signal is convertedto digital format by an analog-to-digitalconverter.
These digital samples are fur-ther compressed by an AMBE®(Ad-vanced Multi-Band Excitation) vocodercircuit. The vocoder takes advantage of the characteristics of human speech tocompress the digital data stream into amuch more compact set of data, mini-mizing the on-the-air bandwidth re-quired. Vocoders vary in the quality of speech that they reproduce, and theAMBE vocoder gets high marks forspeech quality.
The digital stream of bits goes out overthe air using the modulation methodknown as 0.5GMSK (Gaussian MinimumShift Keying). Roughly speaking, GMSKpasses the digital input stream through aGaussian low-pass filter which rounds off the edges of the waveform. This roundedwaveform drives an FM modulator to pro-duce the GMSK-modulated signal, result-ing in a signal that is very efficient in termsof occupied bandwidth.
D-STAR transmissions are not com-patible with the existing analog FM andsound like white noise when received onan FM radio. D-STAR radios providebackward compatibility with existingradios by including a conventional FMmode. The user selects whether he or shewants the radio to operate in analog ordigital mode.The D-STAR standard includes a posi-tion reporting feature that is similar toAPRS®. D-STAR radios have NMEAinterface for taking in position informa-tion from a GPS receiver. Basically, thisdata stream transmits the GPS coordi-nates at a time interval specified by theuser. This transmission is
directlycompatible with APRS, since APRS usesconventional packet radio, while the D-STAR information is encoded in the D-STAR digital format. Some hams areexperimenting with gateways that pipethe D-STAR data into the APRS InternetSystem (APRS-IS), a collection of servers that track APRS reports.Every D-STAR transmission has thestation’s callsign embedded in the digitalstream. This makes identification auto-matic, sort of like Caller ID on a tele-phone. This enables other features suchas “call sign squelch” so that you canmonitor for transmissions from a specif-ic station.
D-STAR supports a comprehensivelinked repeater system. Repeaters can belinked together digitally either via theInternet or via radio on the 10-GHz hamband. When you transmit to a D-STARrepeater, your callsign is automaticallyregistered with that repeater and sharedaround the D-STAR system. Each trans-
mission contains routing informationfor where on the system the signalshould be heard.
This may sound like a capability simi-lar to the repeater linking that can be doneusing IRLP or Echolink®. These Internetlinking systems use conventional FMover the air and convert to digital beforesending the information over the Internet.D-STAR uses digital data throughout thesystem, including the initial RF link. Thedigital encoding in the signal makes therouting of signals from one repeater toanother automatic, without the need forestablishing (and later breaking) a com-munications link. In fact, D-STAR usesa different paradigm entirely, where eachtransmission is routed according to itsembedded callsign-routing information.Since the signal routing is all digital, therewill be no degradation of signal-to-noiseratio as the signal traverses the system.Compare this to repeater systems linkedvia analog methods, where each link tends to introduce a bit of noise.
Some hams look at D-STAR technol-ogy and get hooked instantly because itis new, cool digital technology. Of course, others ask the question “What isthe benefit of D-STAR, as my analog FMrig works just fine?” Like most emergingtechnologies, the benefits of D-STARmay not be understood completely untilthe technology has been around for awhile. The benefits of D-STAR fall intothree major categories:
The DV format of D-STAR has a bandwidth of 6 kHz, com-pared to 16 kHz for analog FM with 5-kHz deviation.
This implies that wecould at least double the number of repeaters or simplex channels in a par-ticular frequency band. Given that allrepeater pairs in the 2-meter band are inuse in many locations, this could have adramatic impact on how the band is used.(Of course, this raises all kinds of stickyissues on how this change would occur.That is, existing repeater owners andusers may not be motivated to change outtheir equipment.)
Routing information encoded invoice channel.
The DVformat has thetransmitting station’s callsign, the desti-nation repeater, and other information
Photo B. The ID-1 transceiver is a 1.2-GHz transceiver that includes analog FM and D-STAR formats (DV and DD). (Photo courtesy of ICOM America)