D-Star

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D-STAR (Digital Smart Technologies for Amateur Radio) is a digital voice and data protocol specification for amateur radio. The system was developed in the late 1990s by the Japan Amateur Radio League and uses frequency-division multiple access and minimum-shift keying in its packet-based standard. There are newer digital modes (Codec2, for example) that have been adapted for use by amateurs, but D-STAR was the first that was designed specifically for amateur radio.

Several advantages of using digital voice modes are that it uses less bandwidth than older analog voice modes such as amplitude modulation, frequency modulation, and single sideband. The quality of the data received is also better than an analog signal at the same signal strength, as long as the signal is above a minimum threshold and as long as there is no multipath propagation.

D-STAR compatible radios are available for HF, VHF, UHF, and microwave amateur radio bands. In addition to the over-the-air protocol, D-STAR also provides specifications for network connectivity, enabling D-STAR radios to be connected to the Internet or other networks, allowing streams of voice or packet data to be routed via amateur radio.

D-STAR compatible radios are manufactured by Icom, Kenwood, and FlexRadio Systems.

The system today is capable of linking repeaters together locally and through the Internet utilizing callsigns for routing of traffic. Servers are linked via TCP/IP utilizing proprietary “gateway” software, available from Icom. This allows amateur radio operators to talk to any other amateurs participating in a particular gateway “trust” environment. The current master gateway in the United States is operated by the K5TIT group in Texas, who were the first to install a D-STAR repeater system in the U.S.

D-STAR transfers both voice and data via digital encoding over the 2 m (VHF), 70 cm (UHF), and 23 cm (1.2 GHz) amateur radio bands. There is also an interlinking radio system for creating links between systems in a local area on 10 GHz, which is valuable to allow emergency communications oriented networks to continue to link in the event of internet access failure or overload.

Within the D-STAR Digital Voice protocol standards (DV), voice audio is encoded as a 3600 bit/s data stream using proprietary AMBE encoding, with 1200 bit/s FEC, leaving 1200 bit/s for an additional data “path” between radios utilizing DV mode. On air bit rates for DV mode are 4800 bit/s over the 2 m, 70 cm and 23 cm bands.

In addition to digital voice mode (DV), a Digital Data (DD) mode can be sent at 128 kbit/s only on the 23 cm band. A higher-rate data protocol, currently believed to be much like ATM, is used in the 10 GHz “link” radios for site-to-site links.

Radios providing DV data service within the low-speed voice protocol variant typically use an RS-232 or USB connection for low speed data (1200 bit/s), while the Icom ID-1 23 cm band radio offers a standard Ethernet connection for high speed (128 kbit/s) connections, to allow easy interfacing with computer equipment.