D-Star, ZUMSpot, & Other Changes In The Shack

Though I’m going to talk about a bunch of other stuff I picked up and added to the shack recently; this is supposed to be primarily a post about ZUMSpot. I’ve had a chance to play with it and I’ve had a bit of fun.

Hotspots aren’t anything new. I seem to remember they were just hitting the streets when I was studying to get my license. They seemed attractive, except for the fact that back during that era I didn’t really have the means to buy an expensive digital HT, let alone the hardware to do so. I did a little more research when I got my FT2D…but the scene for Fusion hardware didn’t seem to work, I found out there was no cross mode from DStar without crazy hardware…and even the options for buying vs. building left me trying to figure out which way I wanted to go….feeling as if I’d somehow get locked in.

“Locked in”…with ham radio. It is a tad bit sad I had my ideas shattered with thinking ham radio was pro open-source with the fact the digital modes use proprietary codecs. But I digress…..

When I saw HRO carrying the ZUMSpot kit I decided to give things another look and by this point. The scene had changed again, but it seemed the MMDVM hats and it’s clones had punched out a niche I felt comfortable with. I didn’t really know much about Pi-Star…the operating system that runs on the Pi and makes the MMDVM works. It would be a learning experience. It was at the same time I decided I should just go ahead and invest in a D-Star radio. The purchase of a hotspot and the prospect of really being able to play with these things more is what drove the decision. I chose the Kenwood TH-D74. I’ll explain the reasons why I went with that over an ICom in a later post.

Configuring the Pi-Star took me a little bit to figure out, but once I did I didn’t find it too difficult. A lot of it boils down to understanding the basics behind the underlying systems. So there was some added difficulty of learning how to configure the ZUMSpot for DStar while simultaneously. But after a few days of poking around I was able to get things fully working.

Overall the ZUMSpot itself is ok, it’s an MMDVM hat…so it’s largely about what you use to drive that. The ZUMSpot kit…and most of these MMDVM hats…run Pi-Star. I’m not 100% sure what it’s underlying version of Linux is; but it focuses on usability over anything else. I say that as both a compliment and criticism.

While Pi-Star was fantastic for getting the thing up and running, I’ve found there are a lot of things it does unnecessarily. Whenever you change a setting; it apparently writes the config files with your new options and then proceeds to reboot every software component. It’s mostly just a bunch of existing open-source tools with a PHP based dashboard and configuration on top. Great if you don’t fully understand how to use Linux…with the number of hams I’ve noticed have difficulty grasping a lot of the PC side of things…I can’t imagine them poking around Linux to actually make this thing work.

That being said, you *can* do a lot of the config and stuff on this manually. With the inability to change talkgroups from a Fusion radio; you can either modify the talkgroup in the dashboard configuration or you can SSH in, modify the config file using a text editor, and then just restart the single service.

Despite all that, the hotspot has been a lot of fun. It’s been a bit surreal being able to link up to reflectors and such and use an HT in my basement. It’s been really fun playing around with DStar reflectors…and I’ve found the DSTar side of having a hotspot is much more put-together and accessible than what I’ve experienced on Fusion. As you don’t have WIRES-X access directly with the hotspot; you’re limited to just using YSF or FCS reflectors that might be bridged to a single WIRES-X room. If anything, I’ve gotten more out of connecting to DMR talkgroups and using the Fusion radio than I have with actual Fusion. I’m sure there’s probably a ton of active YSF and FCS reflectors (outside of WIRES-X bridges) I just haven’t discovered. There are a bunch of them.

I would imagine a DMR radio is probably much like using a native DMR repeater; so changing talkgroups would be as easy as linking and unlinking the hotspot from DStar Reflectors. It’s been a lot of fun overall…and I’ve even started running a reflector network.


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