September 22nd is the global D-Star QSO Party and Contest, since this big event comes up this weekend, D-Star will be tonight’s topic.  

I spoke a lot about the new EGO repeaters and System Fusion or C4FM technology from Yaesu on the first net a few weeks ago, so it’s fair to also give D-Star some focus for this evenings Net.

D-Star is an open standard for a digital mode originally introduced by the Japanese Amateur Radio League in the late 1990’s. D-STAR is an acronym for Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur Radio. By the mid 2000’s ICOM one of the big 3 amateur radio manufacturers starting releasing radios and repeaters that supported D-Star, so it’s been around in our hobby for over 10 years. A common misconception about D-Star is that because ICOM was the only company making compatible radios, that it was a closed technology proprietary to them. It is not, and starting in the last year Kenwood is now making radios compatible with D-Star.

So, what is D-Star, well it is a Digital mode where the encoder chip is in the radio. Any manufacturer can build a D-Star radio using this third-party encoder chip. It also allows for data transmissions, and allows global positioning transmissions compatible with APRS.

D-Star radios allow;

  • Support both analog and digital modes. In handhelds and mobiles that Analog FM and digital FM. In HF radios with D-Star that’s singled side band and digital single side band. There are HF D-Star nets held on HF that are done in the digital mode.
  • Now, like all other radios two operators can communicate with each other directly radio-to-radio on simplex.
  • It also allows two or more operators to communicate with each other through a digital D-Star repeater.
  • D-Star repeaters can run in 2m, 70cm, and 1.2Ghz.
  • D-Star allows individual operators or a local repeater operator to connect through an internet gateway to Reflectors where other operators or repeaters are all linked together all around the world.
  • In fact the Kelowna club has a fully loaded D-star repeater stack with modules for all three bands, plus the internet gateway as well.
  • D-Star allows operators to setup their own personal mini-repeaters where they can connect their radio into the linked internet system. With one of these nodes in your home, you can walk around your home or yard with a handheld and talk into the global linked network, controlling the node from your handheld radio as well.
  • Tracy VE7XNY and myself each have built our own mini D-Star repeaters using spare mobile dual-band analog radios that have the 9-pin DIN packet ports. These ports are connected to D-Star modems that do the D-Star translation passing that information via USB over to a mini-PC’s called a Beagle Bone Black which is like a Raspberry Pi. We operate our systems on UHF at 5 watts which gives us miles of range.


Digital FM modes like D-Star, System Fusion, and DMR use a lot of terminology that basically means the same thing. Before I get any further let’s break down some of these terms so they don’t get confusing. When we talked about Fusion a few weeks ago I tried to use the proper Fusion terms during that conversation. Now if I start using D-Star terms I know it will be quickly confusing for some people.

So, in D-Star a mini repeater is called an Access Point, or a hot spot, In Fusion it’s called a Node. In both cases you the operator are running a low wattage personal use only simplex repeater that you can control from your radio over RF while walking around your property or in the close vicinity to your home. These mini repeaters can be all inclusive devices that you purchase which have the micro-PC, decoder, and RF milliwatt transceiver all-in one. They can be home brew solutions that you build using a PC, decoder, and a spare radio.

Now, when you have linked your radio or a local repeater to a site on the internet hosting other linked repeaters or individuals in D-Star you are connected to a Reflector. In Fusion terms this is a Room.



The very first thing that you’ll need to do with D-Star is register. The global network will not accept your connection unless your registered.  On System Fusion I mentioned a few weeks ago that registration is done directly with Yaesu. On D-Star it’s a distributed registration system handled by the D-Star repeater administrators around the world. My registration was done on the Kelowna repeater since that’s the nearest D-Star repeater to my QTH. You’re supposed to register with your nearest registration option. Ian VE7BST is the D-Star admin for Kelowna’s D-Star repeater VA7DIG. This repeater has it’s own website, so I encourage you to check it out.

Registration can take a day or two, so I would register after ordering your first D-Star radio or device, so that step is completed before it arrives in the mail.

Getting started in D-Star you might presume that buying a D-Star radio from Icom or Kenwood would be the simplest entry point but that’s still pretty expensive.  Actually, the least expensive starting point is a Dongle.

A dongle is a USB device about the size of a USB flash drive. Inside the dongle is the decoder chip that’s compatible with D-Star. Dongles like the DV-Dongle or DV3K-Dongle from Internet Labs, or the ThumbDV from North West Digital retail starting at $120 US. I have both and prefer the less expensive and newer ThumbDV.

The way these dongles work is very similar to Echolink on your PC. You connect the dongle to your PC along with headphones and a microphone. You then install one of the software programs that support that device. You setup the software by entering your callsign and location settings, input the name of a Reflector and make your first connection. QSO’s are performed by toggling transmit in the software and talking into your PC microphone. To avoid feedback from speakers, headphones are strongly encouraged instead of speakers. As you can see from the description, this is not a RF solution to getting onto D-Star, but it’s a great start.



While the USB dongle solution is often the cheapest, many die-hard amateur radio operators would like an RF D-Star solution or nothing at all.

In that case purchase a D-Star compatible radio, they are available new or used in hand-held, mobile, and some all-band, all-mode HF base transceivers. The brand to look at is Icom, with Kenwood recently entering the market with their fully loaded TH-D74AK handheld.

Once you have your new or used D-Star radio the closest repeater you can use is VA7DIG out of Kelowna. There are locations in Vernon and area where you can reach that repeater.

If you want to unlock the full access to D-Star then you need to buy or build yourself an Access Point.

A couple years ago the lowest cost method to do that was spending about $150 on a suitable decoder modem, adding a Raspberry Pi or Beagle Bone Black micro-pc, and then adding an older analog radio with a packet port. With all those parts assembled together you could build yourself a hot spot / access point using free software like FreeStar.

Today it’s easier since decoder products are available with a built in milliwatt VHF or UHF transceiver, these solutions often just need a PC or micro-PC to complete the setup.

Options include;

  • The DVAP from Internet Labs
  • The DV4Mini from Wireless Holdings
  • The Universal Digital Radio Controller from North West Digital Radio
  • And the OpenSpot from Shark RF.

The first 3 of those options will require a PC or micro-pc to become a fully functional access points.

The OpenSpot is more money, but it’s a complete solution that’s as close to plug-and-play as possible. You connect it to your internet connection, power it up, and configure it via a mini web server on the device. Once you programmed your D-Star radio to transmit on the same frequency, your off to the races.



The short answer is YES. System Fusion from Yaesu is new and different in a few ways. But the success of Fusion’s rapid growth in the last 2 years is partially credited to the long standing use of previous technologies like D-Star. Many amateurs had already tried D-Star or DMR and they knew what they could expect from the Fusion technology.

D-Star is a very grown up technology. There are tons of operators, lots of reflectors, lots of repeaters, and lots of home-brew and reverse engineering from smart enthusiasts around the world. For instance did you know that a Yaesu System Fusion DR-1X repeater like the ones we installed at the EGO site, for a few hundred dollars can be converted to run on D-Star?

Also, many D-Star products are in their 2nd, 3rd, or 4th generation. All the D-Star radios currently available from ICOM are new models in the last few years. Kenwood has their new premium handheld with D-Star.

Many of the access point manufacturers who originally made products that just supported D-Star now support multiple digital voice modes in their newest products. This enables much more flexibility. For example you could use a $200 Chinese DMR digital radio (which has no D-Star capability) to transmit into a multi-mode access point and then connect to reflectors or rooms in D-Star, C4FM, or DMR modes. This is a big improvement over years prior when only D-Star gear could talk to D-Star gear, or DMR gear to DMR gear, etc.