Communications Academy 2009

This past weekend, I was up in the Seattle area (again) for the 2009 Communications Academy conference.  This was my first time attending, and I found it to be quite good.  There was a lot of good information on various emergency communications topics and definitely a good concentration of knowledgeable folks.  I gave basically the same talk on D-RATS that I did at MicroHams a couple of weeks ago, but augmented with changes that have occurred since then.

Digital communications was a particularly prominent theme, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.  There was a lot of talk of D-STAR as well as P25.  I attended a talk the first morning comparing the two at a relatively low level, which I found quite informative.  The D-STAR stuff was all review, of course, but the P25 information was new to me.  In the afternoon of the second day I attended the “Digital Radio Possibilities for Amateur Radio” talk.  While there was no attempt to hide the fact that it was focused on P25, I felt that I had been lured into the room by the promise of a discussion (and perceived benefit) of interoperability between public safety P25 networks and potential amateur ones.  Unfortunately, it seemed to avoid that particular issue and promote P25 as the best digital voice standard for Amateur radio just because the public safety folks had chosen that route.  I was disappointed that the capabilities and benefits of D-STAR were completely ignored.

From what I learned in the various talks, I’m really not sure why P25 has much place in the amateur realm, at least any more than any other radio technology that can be pulled onto the amateur spectrum for experimentation.  The prices of used Phase-I gear are significantly higher than new D-STAR radios, and provide significantly less functionality.  The speaker also explained that Phase-II gear is almost categorically uninteresting to the amateur service, which seems to put a clear end date on production and availability of hardware.  Lots of people complain about D-STAR being a potentially dead-end technology with a high price of entry, given that there is only one manufacturer that could pull the plug and make the investment worthless.  That may happen, but with P25 there’s already a date for the funeral.

Finally, many P25 proponets in the amateur community seem to toss the word “interoperability” around quite a bit.  The only time that was addressed in any of the talks I heard this weekend was in the context of using a P25 radio to monitor public safety frequencies. Given such a silly argument, I still don’t know how interoperability is supposed to be a benefit of P25.  They can’t talk on our frequencies and we can’t talk on theirs. Does it matter if we use the same type of radios?

I certainly don’t think D-STAR is the perfect digital voice technology for amateur radio, but from what I learned this weekend, it’s definitely the best option at the moment.

Category(s): Radio

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