There are many modes of digital radio these days such as D-Star, System Fusion (C4FM), DMR, P25, etc. It seems like lately DMR seems to be the popular method, mainly due to the cheap radios that are available. Interestingly though, each of the big three manufacturers seem to be sticking with their respective modes. It is the off brand, cheap radios that use DMR. Now that we’ve tried the big three, we have made some observations. Icom’s D-Star has a very big learning curve on getting on the air. When you add to the fact that there are no repeaters in the reachable distance from Oklahoma City, it is virtually impossible to practice using them unless you have a hotspot in your home.
DMR is another mode that people seem to be using a lot lately. It seems to work relatively simple though it also has quite the learning curve. DMR requires the user to build a piece of software called a code plug that is not that easy to do from scratch. Most people just get one that is already made from someone else, and then tweak it to to their purpose. The problem with DMR, is these radios usually only have so many channels so you are forced to create multiple zones to accommodate more channels. Another negative to DMR, is there is no VFO capability, and no standard calling channel for traveling. If I wanted to go on a road trip to California, I would have to do some extensive research to find all of the repeaters between here and there, get their frequencies, color codes, etc, as well as communicate with them ahead of time so that I could have a code plug built before I left home. It is my opinion that many will not be willing to go through the trouble. Another issue is that if you want to know the call sign of the person on the other end, it will not show up on your radio without installing a third party hack. It is like jail breaking an iphone to get it to show call signs on the other end.
System Fusion (C4FM), from Yaesu, seems to be the easiest setup out of the box though it has its own learning curve. The reason I say it is the easiest, is because you enter your call sign into the radio and it transmits it across the air to the other users. The linking system, called WIRES-X, has its own issues, such as it requires a full Windows computer to install it. Thankfully there are new, smaller systems, slightly bigger than a Raspberry Pi that are not huge power hogs. Connecting to remote nodes are definitely a learning curve on navigating the menus. Once you learn them, it becomes routine. One positive about WIRES-X is that a user can find out remote node information by searching their own radio. You don’t have to know the node numbers of rooms because your radio will search for a menu. Also System Fusion is the easiest to communicate simplex because you still retain VFO capability. D-Star also has this ability but like DMR, you must pre-register an account and activate it before you can talk through repeaters.
In the end, it is a personal preference, and people can make up their own minds. We seriously considered setting up a DMR repeater but over time, it just wasn’t what we desired. We wanted the ability to communicate simplex across town, if our repeater went down. For us, we decided to go with System Fusion. While they are proprietary, they seemed to be the best fit for us. This is not to say that we don’t like the other modes, but thought that C4FM was the best fit for us. We try to use DMR on some of the local repeaters from time to time. The closest D-Star repeater is in 20+ miles away, and I can barely hit it with an antenna 80 feet high. I am hearing good things about a couple hams working on D-Star repeaters to get one or two back on in the Oklahoma City area. I wish them well as it gives the local hams another options.