Who is it for? Who should avoid it?
DMR is a form of ham radio that is “computer intensive” as opposed to “propagation intensive” – similar to Echolink, but not quite. Most hams, which I will call “traditionalists”, focus on antennas and propagation as among the most important elements of their hobby. While computers are often used for digital operation such as FT8 and many others, the primary means of transmission and reception remains “over the air” via antennas and long distance propagation.
DMR, on the other hand, focuses on computers, internet and related programs more than antennas and propagation.
Since there are relatively few DMR repeaters across the US compared to regular FM and related digital such as D-star and System Fusion, most DMR users rely on their own “hotspots”. Hotspots are small computer devices, typically around 4” X 3” X 1.5” in size typically located in their ham shack or a few feet from their internet router. Consequently the only “radio transmission” used on their end is a distance of a few feet between their hand held DMR radio and their hotspot, and between their hotspot and their router. The bulk of the distance is transmitted over the internet to either a repeater or another similar hotspot setup on the other end.
There are four core computer-related components to DMR.
- The radio, which is itself a small computer with a significant memory bank.
- The programming software which DMR folk call a “code plug”, that resides on their computer that loads the programming into the radio.
- The hotspot, which contains an SD card that is populated from a web site, usually Pi-Star.
- Pi-Star on the web, which is the web site that also has to be programmed for the whole system to work properly.
In addition to the above four components, there are a few additional web sites that need to be accessed to register with talk groups and to register your radio. For mobile use, your cell phone replaces your internet router and relies on cell service.
So, you are now aware of the computing focus of DMR compared to other modes. While traditional ham typically involves the first two of the above four components, DMR adds 3. and 4.
Who is most likely to enjoy DMR and who would prefer to avoid it?
First, who may enjoy it?
- Those who are limited by space or HOA restrictions while still wanting to communicate with folks in other states or other parts of the world.
- Those who don’t want to install complex antenna systems, climb ladders, or be concerned with lightning.
- Those who already own computers, are fairly proficient in their use, and not intimidated learning new computer-related systems.
- Those who have lots of patience.
Who would most like to avoid it?
- Those who feel that primarily relying on the internet for long distance communications is not real ham radio or is “cheating.”
- Those who want to minimize their use of computers.
- Those who enjoy the challenge of “propagation” and the nature of changes in atmospheric conditions.
- Those who want a reliable system for Emcomm.
For me, personally, the learning curve has been steep. There are more points of potential failure than in traditional ham radio that, in my opinion, make it less reliable and less suitable for Emcomm, for example. I’ve explored DMR as a substitute for not being able to purchase an HF mag loop antenna due to their temporary unavailability.
DMR is an interesting and challenging segment of ham radio, but like all modes it has its strengths and weaknesses.
Here is a website for a good DMR overview: https://www.savenetradio.org/what-is-dmr-ham-radio/