Winter 2008 Issue

D-STAR in the Southeastern U.S.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the need for reliable VHF-plus communications was made painfully clear. W4OZK discusses why and how D-STAR is being used throughout Alabama to fill that need and how Alabama's network can be used as a model for the rest of the country.

By Greg Sarratt, W4OZK

Figure 1. The Alabama Emergency Management Agency districts are in red, the active D-STAR system installations are in the blue boxes, and systems that are in the works are depicted by the black towers.

What is this D-STAR technology that everyone is talking about? D-STAR stands for Digital Smart Technology for Amateur Radio. Developed in Japan, D-STAR is now accepted and growing like wildfire in the United States. In a nut shell, D-STAR is a three band, fully digital repeater system that can pass digital voice and digital data.

A nationwide network of 52 D-STAR systems exists, enabling amateurs to make a connection with one another, whether locally or in another city via the internet. These networked systems are not dependent on one another, so if any single or several systems go down, the rest of the network continues to work.

D-STAR’s Pioneering Growth

Pioneering this D-STAR technology is the southeastern U.S., and Alabama leads the charge. In 2001 a couple of Alabama hams started investigating an previously unknown technology called D-STAR, developed a plan, and began implementing this new digital technology. In 2006– 2007 Alabama has advanced this technology with nationwide training, seminars, users meetings, and 12 operational systems throughout the state.

The 12 Alabama digital repeater systems include over 31 digital repeaters and 10 high-speed data modules. In addition, there are more systems on the drawing board. A variety of individual clubs, groups, and amateurs built, own, and experiment with these systems. Figure 1 shows the Alabama EMA districts in red, the active D-STAR system installations in the blue boxes, and systems that are in the works are depicted by the black towers.

Alabama has developed a multi-point approach to implementing this new technology within amateur radio. Our statewide effort: Bring new digital technologies to amateur radio, enhance emergency communications capabilities, club project opportunities, upgrade existing repeaters, education, and plain old fun.

D-STAR has been the “star of the show” for many southeastern hamfests this year. The D-STAR activities at the 2007 ARRL National Convention, Huntsville Hamfest, were exciting and truly awesome. Amateurs from across the nation and some from outside the U.S. attended the users group meeting. Relationships were built, friendships renewed, and experiences, stories, and ideas exchanged.

The public service dedication of southeastern amateur radio is just one factor that drives amateurs to review and implement new technologies. Amateur radio’s customers are asking for more digital data and large amounts of it. Forms, long lists of equipment, and resource needs are the norm. D-STAR is one digital method that will help amateurs provide better service.

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