There are a number of digital voice protocols in the world of Amateur Radio, but DMR seems to be the most popular. After thinking about it off and on for a while, I decided a couple of weeks ago to purchase a DMR radio. After discussing it online with a few folks, I decided on the Anytone AT-D878UV. The reasons I decided to go DMR instead of something like Yaesu Fusion or D-Star are the cost of equipment, repeater locations, and understanding of how it worked. First, DMR radios are less expensive than Fusion or D-Star; the Anytone only runs around $200. There are more DMR repeaters in places that I frequent than there are Fusion or D-Star; the First Coast DMR network that covers coastal Georgia and the First Coast of Florida definitely played into my decision making. Finally, I already had a basic understanding of how DMR worked from what little experience I have scanning it. A lot of what I’ve seen online made it sound like programming a DMR radio would be difficult, but after talking with Russ, K4YGD, who gave me a demonstration of programming basics and a starting codeplug for the Savannah area and then working on expanding the codeplug I discovered that it’s nowhere near as difficult as I’d been made to believe.
After the 878 arrived, it didn’t take long to get it programmed and on the air. I had already applied for and received a DMR ID before I met up with Russ and registered with Brandmeister before the radio arrived, so those steps were already out of the way; allowing me to get on the air a bit quicker. Once I did get on the air on the First Coast DMR network, I was pleased with DMR and the radio. The DMR audio is comparable to the P25 radios I use at work and sounds than D-Star (at least in my opinion, it does). I’ve also been quite happy with the radio; it’s pretty nice for a $200 radio. For such a small radio, the audio is strong and clear; whether you’re using it in analog or DMR mode, it’s easily understandable and you don’t have to turn it up very far. I’ve also been impressed with battery life; granted, I don’t talk very much, but the battery will last several days on a charge. The only complaints I have are minor; the programming software seems a bit clunky (but here I don’t really have anything else to compare it to) and the minimum volume setting is still a bit high, I’d like to be able to turn the audio down a bit more. Overall, I’ve been favorably impressed with DMR and what it can do and with the AT-D878UV and what it does.
The only problem that I ran into was that there is no DMR repeater in Brunswick, where I spend most of my time, so I wasn’t able to operate on or listen to DMR when I was there. There is a repeater in Savannah and one Kingsland, but where I’m at puts me just between the two, unable to access either with just a handheld. After looking at various DMR hotspots, I decided to purchase a Skybridge Plus hotspot. It arrived last Friday and I had it on the air Saturday morning in less than half an hour. Using the videos that Bridgecom Systems provides made setting it up easier than I expected. I’ve got it set up to work through my phone’s WiFi hotspot, so besides Brunswick, I can use it anywhere I can power it up (it comes with a portable battery pack). In no time, I was able to have a QSO with Russ in Savannah and Kenny, KO4EXF in Butler, GA through the First Coast Brandmeister talkgroup (31121).
I bought both the radio and the hotspot through Bridgecom Systems. I chose the 878 because everyone I asked about it or replied to my tweet about it had positive responses and good things to say about it. I chose the Skybridge Plus from Bridgecom because of the extensive library of videos they have that showed me how to set it up. The Skybridge Plus was more expensive than other choices, but to me, the video support they offer was worth it because it let me get it set up and on the air with no frustration or trouble. The videos I watched presented the needed information in a clear and easily understandable form. If I get another hotspot, I’ll be able to go with a less expensive Pi-star option because now I’ve got experience setting one up.
So far, I’ve been very happy with both the 878 and the Skybridge Plus. My interest in amateur radio waned in recent years, but DMR seems to have awakened some new interest in the hobby. I still listen more than talk, but DMR through the repeaters and the hotspot is quite a versatile option. So far I’m hanging out on First Coast DMR (Brandmeister talkgroup 31121). As I get more experienced I’ll branch out to other networks and talkgroups and I’m looking forward to using DMR in other areas I visit such as Charleston and Columbia, SC. I’m usually listening to First Coast in the mornings between going off duty and going to bed; feel free to give me a call.