What is the point of amateur radio? To learn about radio, propagation, and the electromagnetic spectrum in general. To understand how it works, and maybe even build or modify your own equipment. The license, after all, is the only legal way to use the electromagnetic spectrum at interesting power levels.
In order to learn we must be able to inspect; To tinker, or at the very least have access to a specification we can build from.
Some amateur radio operators seem to complain that people don’t build their own radios anymore. That they just buy a box and antenna and are now consumers. This is not what I’m talking about here. First, you know in principle how your radio works. And you could build one that could replace it. Would it be as good as a modern fancy rig? Of course not. It wouldn’t be as good, but you could build one, and you could use it just as well as the bought one.
And if you learn enough, and tweak enough with the rig and antenna system, you could build something better for your particular environment.
When I first learned that D-Star used a proprietary voice codec I couldn’t understand the point of D-Star at all. Some black box you just buy and are a passive consumer? What’s the point? Why even bother with a hobby of sharing and learning, if there’s a big wall saying “this far, no further!”, that you are not permitted to create your own radio for. Or permitted to understand.
If it’s just “buy this consumer device and use it, but don’t learn” then why am I not just using skype, or whatsapp, if it’s just about making free phone calls?
I would like to learn and create in all aspects of radio. One of these is Software Defined Radio (SDR), which this proprietary technology prevents me from using to explore D-Star in a meaningful way.
I’m hopeful that this will change, that proprietary technologies like the D-Star voice codec go away, now that SDR is starting to be introduced to amateur radio tests. I hope that’ll bring the digital knowledge and culture of open source together with the radio knowledge of amateur radio, to create the best of both worlds. As-is D-Star voice codec is a dead end. It can’t lead to new things like JT65 led to FT8, and FT8 to JS8Call, or other inventions.
It’s just there, static, opaque, and for the main purpose of amateur radio: useless.
If SDR on amateur radio tests brings open source people to amateur radio, then maybe it can bring openness of technology to the amateur radio community. (yes, it’s weird to me that openness of technology needs to be brought to, of all things, the xamateur radio community)
Some call codec openness “ideological purity of dubious usefulness”. In my opinion the closed codec is what makes D-Star of dubious usefulness. It’s a dead end.
Then there’s the registration system. If you ever had to start using D-Star and didn’t live near a D-Star enabled repeater then you know how annying this could be. In theory you should just be able to register, but in practice registrations not at “home” seem to be ignored or denied.
It seems like the AMBE patent has expired now, but until there’s an implementation of codec (not just decoder) that’s not all that helpful.
I have hopes for Codec2 and FreeDV, but there’s a whole legacy proprietary repeater and reflector system that needs to be dismantled, not to mention all the handsets that have to be exchanged since none of them currently support FreeDV, and likely never will get a firmware update to support them.
What amateur radio really needs is open source digital radios. And it shouldn’t be that unrealistic. Surely it’s not that expensive or hard if only opensource people can combine their skills and let affordable SDRs be the unifying banner under which a new better amateur radio world is built.
I’m doing my part, learning enough of the hardware parts to combine a Raspberry Pi, a USB SDR, a RF Power amplifier, and some other parts to create an open and more importantly debuggable and software-extendable radio.