Yaesu Digital Voice

Yaesu has been in the news recently for the digital salvo they fired over the bow of the D-STAR ship.  In theory I think this is a great move, and others are praising Yaesu’s announcement.  My concerns with D-STAR’s proprietary AMBE vocoder algorithm and hardware, the essentially one vendor market for D-STAR equipment (Icom), and the relatively dated and unscalable D-STAR protocol are no secret to anyone who reads this blog regularly.  But looking at the Yaesu digital voice whitepaper, it’s somewhat a half-baked initiative, in my opinion, where Yaesu has a new hammer and everything looks like a nail.

Most of the paper focuses on the modulation technique of D-STAR, GMSK, and pits it against Yaesu’s (errr….. Motorola’s)  C4FM.  While better RF and data throughput performance can be had with better modulation techniques, the big issue with D-STAR isn’t its modulation technique, it’s the layer two protocol.  Yaesu doesn’t even mention its layer two protocol and network that would presumably be used, Wires II.

Yaesu’s case for C4FM superiority beyond it being used in commercial networks falls flat.  In the paper there are specifications of selected D-STAR and C4FM radios compared, with some highlighted parameters.  There’s also a graph comparing various modulation techinques, but the big takeaway is D-STAR has a rate of 4800 baud versus 9600 baud for C4FM.  I’ve used the somewhat archiac term of baud rather than kpbs intentionally to illustrate just how lame the comparison is.  Furthermore, while D-STAR is clearly in the crosshairs of Yaesu, there is no mention of D-STAR’s 128kbs data mode or how Yaesu’s solution beats that data rate.

All in all this whitepaper and initiative which some are praising appears to me to be a rather sophomoric effort, and one more concerned with selling retreaded commercial rigs in amateur radio.  Aligning amateur standards with commercial ones isn’t a bad thing especially when secondhand commercial gear can be re-purposed for amateur use, but there needs to be other compelling reasons to adopt a commercial modulation technique. Even with the best layer one modulation technique, if the layer two protocol and the supporting network is badly designed the digital voice standard is doomed for failure.  Yaesu needs to be making a case for its system by explaining the entire network, how it is open and non-proprietary, and how it will scale in the future.  I hope Yaesu does successfully launch a competing digital voice solution, and I hope organizations like ARRL and RSGB get involved and insure that the standard is consistent with the spirit of amateur radio.  Unfortunately to me this new initiative looks like another D-STAR in the making.

(D-STAR is a registered trademark of Icom Incorporated.)

4 Responses to “Yaesu Digital Voice”

  • Richard Corso:

    Anthony, good article.

    Have you actually seen the 128kbs data thru put of D-STAR or just read about it?

    To get 64kbs is asking a lot of most commercial available systems with ham systems being a lot lower on the bps output.

    With D-STAR 128k requiring a bandwidth of 160kHz in the 1200MHz radio spectrum and with back-haul microwave radio systems in the 5600MHz range to get the data from a remote hill top repeater, it’s going to be out of the price range of most radio clubs and individuals.

    Lets hope that Yaesu bring to the table a cost effective product that the average ham can purchase and use to support digital voice and data.

    Having used and heard D-STAR audio quality I’m not impressed with the quality of the audio.

    73 and all the best for the New Year to you and your family

  • Tom, KA4CSG:

    Just what we need, another “standard”, that is incompatible with others. Since the Gulf Coast is built out with D-Star, ready for the next disaster, where will a “new” standard deploy? The cost of adapting an additional infrastructure may be impossible by many small clubs. The clubs that I am most familiar with, are D-Star equipped. I doubt that they will be able and willing to establish a new repeater system to support this digital direction.

  • Matt W1MST:

    I don’t understand. Where did we go wrong here?

    Why has DV been led by manufacturers instead of hams themselves? I mean kudos to JARL for taking the lead with D-STAR, but doesn’t it rely on a proprietary codec?

    Why are manufacturers able to lead us around and put us in their stables of proprietary formats?

    I know the answer, but we have no one to blame but ourselves.

  • Goody K3NG:

    Richard, I’ve never seen the 128 kbs D-STAR data mode in action, nor have I read about anyone actually using it, I’ve just seen the specification on paper. It wouldn’t be too out of reach to deploy consumer-grade 2.4 Ghz WiFi units with homebrew antennas to backhaul the Internet to a repeater site, assuming you have line of sight to an amateur’s house already equipped with Internet. But you bring up a good point about the limitations of our bands and higher data bandwidths, and higher bandwidth DV protocols are probably a moot point.

    It seems to me the “killer app” of DV is the voice networking capabilities and not of the digital voice itself, and the low data speeds make it obsolete from an Internet access perspective. When you consider Echolink and IRLP provide long distance voice networking, the question becomes just what is the unique compelling “killer app” with DV?

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