“Fun Mode…”

It’s a “Fun Mode”
– Is it “the mode” or the results?
– 5 Dec 2017 de No1PC

I hear “fun mode” once in awhile – in reference to D-Star, DMR, P25, Fusion, etc. – and wonder what’s any more or less ‘fun’ about “the mode” – invisible technology that accepts your voice and makes it audible from a speaker a few or thousands of miles away, and brings others’ voice back to you the same way?

You’re not personally or physically interacting with the mode per-se, and voice-to-voice generally should have no awareness of “a mode’s” existence.  There *is* awareness that at least in the case of digital data transfer over RF, in the conversion processes, it’s obvious by the unnatural audio that you’re not on analog FM or AM, or SSB. What’s ‘fun’ about it?

All of the above can be and usually are digitally-linked over the Internet, globally – so are the contacts across state or international lines more or less ‘fun’ via DMR vs D-Star vs Fusion vs analog VoIP connections between analog FM stations? Do they tickle? Are the conversations any better? Can you see the bits?

‘Mode’ is such a broad term. :0

Used to be we only had a single ‘digital’ mode rendered by the creation and spacing of analog RF transmission – called ‘CW’, implemented manually by wrist/finger-operated telegraphs keys and deciphered by ear – much as we play and listen to music (though few of us can identify the notes, we get the message, by the learned interaction of translating letters and numbers into ‘bits’.) Now THAT is talent – we were not only communicating but and active part of the communications processing. That is fun to many, not so much to others who couldn’t or wouldn’t “learn the notes.” Definitely a valuable application of radio.

When modulation of RF beyond on and off, to levels of on and off that followed amplitude and tone of voice, we got amplitude modulation. That was probably a LOT of fun, a magical experience with the mystery of radio in between.

Once capturing images, especially images as things moved came about, we got tele-vision – an amplitude modulated mode. Add audio… perhaps the devil’s toy? Then frequency modulation was discovered which dramatically improved analog voice communication. A new “fun mode”. By then was it any more fun or just more pleasant?

AM for consistency and legacy remains in the broadcast world, and if you’re an afficianado of ‘broadband’ audio on HF, sounds SUPERB. Some fun in finding just the right modern or legacy HF rig, microphone and tweaking the audio to sound better than Edward R Murrow on CBS (I know, dated, but history is important too!)

Sideband – a manipulation of AM to concentrate all of the ‘AM’ power in half the bandwidth, upper or lower, annoys the broadcast AM and FM purists but is perhaps the second great advancement in ham radio. It sustains today as one of THE most effective HF voice ‘modes’ for many military, commercial and of course ham applications. It is ubiquitous worldwide. Paying close attention to the nuances of SSB transmission can result in some pretty impressive AM-broadcast-like signals!

Since the late 60s and to date – FM – constant carrier RF power to avoid AM/varying power signal levels – was and remains THE global modulation/audio mode globally. VERY easy radio implementations. Quite obvious audio transmission and recovery. Employed by thousands of broadcasters, commercial/business users, public safety, etc. Perhaps THE FIRST and often ONLY ‘mode’ for many many hams. Crisp, clean, uncomplicated end-to-end communications without computers, bits, networking, etc.

Well, until you toss in voice (or radio) over IP bridges, patches, connectors – such as EchoLink, IRLP, AllStar. One does not have to invest in new radio equipment to enjoy the near, far, or global connectivity between local, distant, mobile or international locations.

Then we “paradigm shift” (but hopefully not forcefully) into some innovative, but varying quality implementations of ‘digital’ voice modes. First, it is important to understand that any human to human voice communications is always, so far, ANALOG. None of the digital voice modes change the human voice interface – they are just different, ‘invisible’ means of transporting analog voice from Point A to Point B, C, D, E…

Radio-over-IP is more various implementations and back-end configurations than innovative, pioneering, etc. Most global telephony has been voice-over-IP for a couple of decades. We can do this in Skype, Facebook, Google, GoToMeeting, etc. What’s more ‘fun’? A free Skype to Skype call between any consumer device in the world, or an Internet-bound special-radio-to-special-radio QSO via common VoIP technology?

D-Star claims to be first in the ham world. Basically an analog to digital encoding or conversion scheme conveying ‘digital modem’ ‘tones’ through what ‘was’ an FM modulation scheme in a transmitter. It is NOT specifically “narrow-band” by any other standard. It is mostly implemented in one brand of radio and a few off-shoot interface appliances. Not created nor adopted by domestic or commercial entities, it is ‘simply’ a ‘quaint’ human-to-human transport mechanism with some digital/data/modem features. Is it ‘fun’? Why? How so? It can be networked globally? That’s not unique or special.

Then we come to the industry-standards, commercially-implemented modes like P25, and ‘Trbo’ (DMR). P25 – created of by and for the public-safety market, to allow more spectrum concentration and offer encryption for sensitive ‘tactical’ data – it requires the radios to have computing power, software, and a variety of security complexities. It is specifically true-narrow-band, available only in commercial brand radios. Encrypted P25 is not allowed in amateur service. Is it ‘fun’? How so?

DMR, more generically and by standards ‘Trbo’, is perhaps the most condensed, feature-packed digital ‘mode’ to meet commercial and ham radio service. It is NOT a unique proprietary possesion of Motorola – they just provide some value-add ($$$) features atop the global standard. Buy almsot any variant of a ‘DMR’ radio and you too can “world the world” (over VoIP) from your recliner. No license or new gear required to do this via VoIP applications.

By now some readers are getting a little ‘boiled’ about my rendition and may not even wait until the end of this piece to ‘troll’ me.

I’ve only called out a lot of things we call ‘modes’ and pointed out some things that are not too unique or special – that we couldn’t already do by other means – ham radio or consumer products? So, still, what defines a “fun mode” ?

We have a LOT of human-to-human voice ‘modes’ and implementations. Having built dozens of repeaters in my modest time in this hobby – ‘fun’ is relative – not guaranteed or mandated by how anyone gets on the air.

Still, I’ve not yet expanded on the various implementations of ‘older’ modes – CW, SSB or even FM when it comes to making contact through objects or with people in outer space. Numerous satellites have been providing CW, SSB and now FM voice services, variously easy for the majority of hams with a dual-band hand-held and $30 directional antenna. General-public licensed ham satellite operation modes have been around for over a decade. A LOT of fun for kids and many new hams!

Yet another trip in a way-back time machine – using CW or SSB to make Earth-Moon-Earth contacts. My first and sadly only foray into that was facilitated by an 84 foot dish and 5KW CW transmitter in Maryland. Amazing to hear your own meager 2-3 WPM CW signal bounce back 3-4 seconds after calling CQ. This mode, EME, is frequently enjoyed fun by many with directional antenna arrays in their back-yards.

The EME crowd also seems to enjoy a variety of weak-signal challenges on 6 meters, 2 meters, 440 and beyond to 3, 5, 10 GHz microwave allocations – challenging atmospheric conditions to acheive distant communication records once thought impossible.

To me the *FUN* is any contact, contribution, growth, provision of services and expansion of our common global friendship no matter what electronics, device, or modulation scheme is used.

To call-out or imply that one thing is ‘fun’ may leave the impression other amateur radio operations are not, or are less-fun. Nothing could be farther from reality – HAM RADIO IS FUN! It will be a lot of fun if/when my grandkids may begin to ‘get’ ham radio – any part or implementation of it.

Making and enjoying new friends across town or around the globe is the most fun of ham radio, not specific to a mode, modulation scheme, radio, antenna, power, etc. Direct radio-to-radio, without computers or the ‘Interwebs’ in between, is perhaps the most genuine ‘fun’ implementation, but it’s all good.

I think the point is and should be – get on the air – your voice, CW keying or image – conveyed to someone else somewhere else – and not let “the mode” be the significant aspect, but the experience!


de Jim, No1PC


About NO1PC

I grew up with technology, radio, general electronics and gadgets. I have been and am an amateur radio operator, NO1PC, since 1970. I have worked in a wide variety of electronics and technology from paging and two-way radios systems, public safety radio, broadcast, medical instrumentation, scientific research and forensic instruments, digital and computer technology, technical and consumer software.. My technology interests have driven or provided a number of volunteer community service activities most notably as a volunteer firefighter for 8 years in Texas (I signed up to maintain their radios and apparatus and got thrown in the fire so to speak) and as a technical lead with the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services. With those I have certainly come to understand critical communications. I have been fortunate to work with numerous educators, mentors, engineers and a broad "user base" to acquire, learn, understand, enjoy and deliver a lot of great technology. I look forward to encountering new mentors every day and making the most of what they have to offer. I am also an accomplished technical author and columnist, starting with a modest PC how-to book inspired by my mentors and experiences to everyday aspects of computing in our lives, from command-lines to WiFi. The perspective of gathering and sharing and giving back with information available to me continues to drive work, hobby and volunteer services. My interests and desire in this blog are to share and capture various nuances and best practices from and for hobby to life-safety aspects of communications and ham radio.
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