David Rowe has released an early version of his low bit rate open source digital voice codec. Whilst this is certainly a significant achievement, I can’t get very excited about it for two reasons. First, it is incompatible with the AMBE codec used by Icom in D-Star, so it is never going to be able to work with existing D-Star equipment and it is not all that likely that it will be incorporated in future versions. And second, I still don’t see what benefits digital voice offers us as radio hams in the real world.
Digital audio gives you clear “fully quieting” audio up until the signal starts to be lost, when it quickly breaks up and you get nothing. Analogue audio experiences a gradual degradation as the signal gets weaker. Those who have used the two report that an analogue signal is usably copyable about 15 – 20% further out than a digital signal. I can understand that for some professional services nothing but clear copy will do. But we are amateurs who are supposed to be good at digging weak signals out of the noise. Is this really “progress”, in the context of what ham radio is used for?
The other reason for my antipathy to digital voice is that I question whether we need another voice mode at a time when VHF analogue voice operation itself seems to be in decline. Surely it would be better to be making more use of existing technologies like Echolink to create more activity for users of existing equipment than to introduce new digital modes that will have an even smaller number of users. I’ve seen D-Star radios up for sale because the original purchaser found there was hardly anyone to talk to, and D-Star has now been around for several years. I don’t see the availability of an open source digital voice codec changing that situation somehow.