The digital revolution has influenced nearly every aspect of life on planet earth and ham radio is no exception. Digital Mobile Radio (DMR) is a digital radio standard. It was designed for commercial use and developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) in 2005. Wanting to build on the efficiencies that data modes offer the hobby, Ham radio operators have embraced digital communication modes for their own use.

Digital Voice Communication in Ham Radio:

Radio has always been analogue, but now digital voice modes are making exceptional communication quality a reality. There are competing systems rising up (much like the old VHS and BETA days) and vying for top spot. The mainstream radio manufacturers have their own versions, while there are also "brand agnostic" protocols being developed. Here is more information about them:

  • D-STAR - an open standard developed for amateur radio by the Japan Amateur Radio League, utilized in Icom and Kenwood equipment.
  • SystemFusion - a proprietary system for amateur radio by Yaesu.
  • P25 - a standard developed for North American public safety services. Governed by the Telecommunications Industry Association and others.
  • M17 - a noble open source system being developed for Amateur radio based on CODEC 2.
  • This is helpful video for exploring these different approaches to Digital Voice Communications: Ham Radio Digital Modes Comparison - DMR, DSTAR or YSF? P25 or NXDN?

Digital Modes

Modes of radio transmission, like CW or SSB, have also been developed for digital communication over the years. There are nearly a zillion different kinds of these modes and new ones almost all the time. They all seek to solve the same problem: how can we transmit information as efficiently as possible. And by efficient we mean the least amount of bandwidth possible. The human voice needs a certain amount of bandwidth. Digital needs only a fraction of that and there's only so much bandwidth to go around. The efficiencies of digital communication have intrigued hams for decades. Here's a list of only a few:

  • RTTY - This is the oldest of all Amateur digital modes going back to 1940s when Teletype® equipment was invented
  • Packet - Canadian Doug Lockhart VE7APU is the Father of Packet Radio. Packet is computer-to-computer communication via radio
  • APRS - Automatic Packet Reporting System is a real-time digital system that marries packet to GPS (Global Positioning System)
  • WSPR - Weak Signal Propagation Reporting or Whisper. World Wide network of low power transmitter/receivers uploading info they hear to a website allowing you to map where your signal is in real time
  • FT8 - Primary feature is possible DX communication when the bands seem dead. This is currently a very popular digital mode.

The sky is the limit when it comes to digital communication with ham radio. This will only keep evolving as new modes are developed and become popular. This is a very helpful video introducing Ham Radio Digital Modes.