The Digital Mobile Radio explosion.
Ham radio has been analog-based for pretty much forever, but has been slowly embracing the whole digital, computerized thing over the past handful of years. HF transmission methods such as RTTY have grown into robust low-power modes like PSK31, and the Internet has started connecting hams to their shacks from remote locations and one repeater to another for a while now. IRLP and Echolink have made it possible for people with Technician-class licenses to be heard worldwide while staying within the limits of that license, and the club I belong to added an Echolink segment to each Sunday morning net, so the retirees who have moved away from Philly can still connect with their friends. I even maintain a copy of Echolink on my phone, just in case.
Then the big radio manufacturers started messing about with digital audio over the air.
Icom has D-Star, Yaesu had WIRES, which became Fusion, and there's probably a couple more in there, proprietary modes that required you to buy not only that company's repeater hardware, but invest in that company's radios to USE those repeaters. It was a "walled garden" approach that frankly turned me off. So color me surprised when I heard about another digital entrant that wasn't quite so proprietary.
DMR, standing for Digital Mobile Radio, is a system that was first designed by a European group, but was embraced by a number of manufacturers, notably Motorola. It started as a business-oriented system, for those industrial-looking bricky handy-talkies without a display or even a frequency readout, used by factory workers, truck drivers, and sometimes by police, firemen, and other emergency services. They didn't need a display because you rarely changed channel, and they had to be programmed by a computer back at the office so no one would fiddle with it and get a radio off the channel designated for their company or organization. It was a very utilitarian system, not really the hobbyist sort of thing. At least, not at first.
You see, the DMR protocol itself is not a "walled garden". It's fairly open, though some of the equipment manufacturers put in some proprietary features that suited their particular needs. Motorola set up the MOTOTRBO system, Hytera has their own system, and it pretty much didn't address ham radio at all. But even though a Motorola repeater wouldn't network with a Hytera repeater, the RADIOS used the same system, and weren't as locked in as, say, D-Star or Fusion. You don't have to buy a Motorola radio to connect to a MOTOTRBO repeater. So long as it's a DMR protocol radio, you're golden.
Then the Chinese got in on the act. What they did with the Baofeng and Wouxun radios -- dirt-cheap UHF/VHF analog transceivers -- they suddenly did with DMR. It's very popular in Europe, so there was a market to exploit, and exploit they did. But still, not a lot of people had heard about this mode. Then some ham hackers managed to break into the software on a cheap Chinese DMR handheld, and a video presentation of their efforts -- which are just the earliest proof-of-concept sort of thing and NOT a finished-product concept at all -- and even though their work wasn't all that useful to the average ham, it DID suddenly call attention to the DMR thing.
And suddenly, all those hams who really thought digital audio over the air was a really cool thing, but hadn't gotten into it because they didn't want to get locked into Icom or Yaesu's walled garden philosophy suddenly had an option. Or rather, many options, as Chinese manufacturers were starting to pump out DMR radios that would work on various DMR networks for about a third to a quarter of what other more established brands would cost.
A Motorola DMR radio could cost $300-$800 on eBay...but a brand new Tytera MD-380 DMR device was between $110-$150, and worked just fine with the MOTOTRBO and Hytera repeaters! Heck, they're still able to talk to analog repeaters too, so they serve double duty. You still have to program them with a computer instead of right from the radio, but unlike Motorola, which charges $80 for the programming cable and $250 for a couple of years' license on the software, a Tytera's programming cable costs about $10, and the software is free.
The upshot was cheap entry-level equipment to get access to a worldwide network of interconnected repeaters, giving the ability to talk with digital quality to people all around the world from a handheld radio...and STILL not exceed the license limits of a Technician-class ham license. No real static problem, clear voice, no more weak and barely audible signals, and CHEAP. And unlike a cell phone, you don't have to know who to call, and you don't have a monthly bill. You can turn a knob to talk on a worldwide or nationwide channel, announce your presence, and chat with whoever happens to answer. Fun!
Did I mention it was cheap? Well, it is.
But that has caused a bit of a stir. The supply of DMR radios has gone a little peculiar, as they're being snapped up as fast as they can get shipped. I got my DMR handheld, a Tytera MD-380, about a week and a half ago, on Amazon. My partner tried to do the same, but ran into a problem. The first place she went to had her thinking it would arrive yesterday, but she got an email saying they hadn't shipped it yet, and needed to push the date by a week or so. They were out of radios, you see, and now it's Chinese New Year in China, and if you don't know, the entire country SHUTS DOWN for about two weeks when that rolls around. So she went to another company, who shipped her the wrong radio, a VHF model instead of UHF. She's going to have to return that one when it arrives.
So I lent a hand and ordered her a Retevis model that's essentially the same radio as the Tytera with a different brand name on the case. It should be here tomorrow. It didn't even cost a different price.
But if you're wanting to get into DMR, you may find getting a radio a bit challenging for a couple of weeks, until the Chinese come back from their holiday and start shipping again.http://www.dmr-marc.net/