I have had Yaesu System Fusion radios since 2015, along with switching our club repeater W2XRX from an older GE analog system to a Yaesu DR1X in 2015, and then in 2020 a DR2X. I have had a Wires-X node online since November 2015. I obtained a Shark RF Openspot (a digital hotspot) when it first came out, maybe in 2018 or so.

System Fusion is Yaesu’s implementation of digital voice. It is not proprietary, it’s specs have been published. So far, no other manufacturer has developed radios for it.

Since then, I have acquired 2 FTM-400s, one FTM-100, one FT1XD, HT, one FTM-300, and one FT5DR HT. I use one FTM-400 as a PDN node, and the other is in my car. The FTM-100DR is dedicated to the W2XRX Wires-X node and the FTM-300 is my base station radio.

What is a hotspot? Think of it as a small repeater that takes your signal and connects it to a digital voice network on the internet.

So I have some experience with System Fusion/C4FM digital voice. I hadn’t experimented too much in cross-moding my HT to other modes using the Openspot, but certainly have been aware of the other digital voice modes. I didn’t see a need to really explore the others. Many of the popular gathering spots support all of the modes one way or another.

The digital radios can be used on RF only. Transmit on a simplex or repeater, and communicated with someone on the same digital mode thru a repeater that also supports that mode. This is pretty much what we have been doing for 50 years on FM.

All of the digital modes can also easily go out over the internet. To facilitate this, there are several digital networks that support these modes. System Fusion has Wires-X (Yaesu Proprietary) and FCS, YSF, and YCF networks. DMR has DMR-Marc, Brandmeister, DMR+, System X, TGIF, and others. D-Star has XRF, XLX and others.

These networks are separate, but sometimes can be linked. One complaint about digital voice that has been heard for many years, was “I’ll wait until one mode is declared the winner”. They don’t want to be stuck with a Betamax. It doesn’t appear it will happen soon. It has also been greatly helped by efforts of hams to use the internet and computers to allow different modes to communicate, usually referred to as “transcoding”. This is essentially what hotspots do to allow “cross-moding”.

But I kept hearing about these other modes and networks, and the software “Pi-Star” so often and in many different places that I became intrigued to try it out.

Openspot is a company run by a couple of hams from Estonia. They make great hardware and software. Pi-Star is software created by a ham in the UK, which is designed to work with a MMDVM (Multi-Mode Digital Voice Modem), and some sort of small computer, usually a Raspberry-Pi Zero 2W. Recently, another software package by Chip, W0CHP, named WPSD has been gaining popularity essentially doing what Pi-Star has been doing for several years.

An MMDVM PWB and Pi Zero 2W can be had for around $60 from Amazon and others. Pi-Star and WPSD software is free. An Openspot 4 or 4 Pro runs $220 – 300. It is a complete plug and play package.

The MMDVM route requires some extra effort. Getting the hardware, downloading an image to a micro SD card, possibly soldering header pins on Pi Zero 2W, configuring the software, etc. Lots of YouTube videos are available as reference, as well as good websites. There are commercial versions of this available (Zumspot, Bridgecom Skybridge and others).

So, I had this idea to enhance our W2XRX repeater capabilities. I installed something called an XLX Reflector in the “cloud”. Theoretically, it can create something called a “reflector”. Reflector started in the D-Star world. Fusion calls it a “room”. DMR calls it a “Talk Group”. Essentially, it is a gathering point where multiple stations can communicate. But these gathering points are online. Like a repeater where range can be extended for many stations, these reflectors, rooms, and talk groups allow station to extend their reach. There is usually a radio involved at both end points, but in between, the signals are carried via the internet.

But this surely isn’t real ham radio, right? Well, not by 1960 standards. We are not living in a 1960 world. Computers are well ensconced into our lives, and this includes ham radio. There are probably a few hundred thousand hams in the USA with a Technician license, and for many of them, these digital voice modes are what they are using.

Anyway, for me to enable interoperability between DMR and Fusion (c4fm), I needed to use my Openspot and a FTM-400, so I needed another hotspot to be able to communicate myself. So I ordered an MMDVM board and Raspberry Pi Zero 2W from Amazon. I loaded WPSW software and I quickly got another hotspot running and started testing the XLX Reflector and bridging to Wires-X and our repeater.

I also needed to be able to test DMR, and I felt I needed to understand more about how DMR worked. So I ordered an Anytone D878uvii from Powerwerx.

What have I learned? Playing with hotspots can be fun and interesting. It also gives you a window into a whole other world of digital voice. There is a lot going on in this area, and a lot of activity from all over the world. Dozens of nets are on every week.

The easiest way to get started? It depends. There are several options.

  • Yaesu FT70DR HT and W2XRX Wires-X (if within HT range)
  • A Yaesu FT-200DR and a PC loaded with Wires-X software
  • Yaesu FT-70DR and MMDVM Hotspot
  • Yaesu FT5DR and a PC with Wires-X
  • DMR HT and some kind of hotspot

D-Star is out there and still popular. A couple of local D-Star repeaters around this area. Interoperability is a bit harder as some extra hardware is required. But if you have a D-Star HT or mobile rig, and Openspot 4 Pro will do transcoding to other modes for around $300.

Used is an option to save a little money. Computers for Wires-X have to be running Windows, but an older machine is fine if running Windows 7 at least.

DMR is quite popular, but be prepared for a steeper learning curve. It was designed for commercial use, and has been adapted for ham radio. There are several manufacturers of DMR radios, ad lots of software that support them. There are a couple of repeaters around the area I believe.

P25, NXDN are a couple other digital modes, and M17 is an up-and-comer. P25 and NXDN are usually surplus commercial radios. I believe there is some limited P25 in the Rochester area. If you like working with surplus commercial gear, it could be an option, but check around. Most hotspots support P25 and some also support cross-moding. M17 is being developed by hams for hams, and is all open source. Most all of these utilize C4FM, which Yaesu leveraged for System Fusion, but vary in their implementation (designed for commercial use vs. amateur use).

I’m no expert in this area. There are many people out there publishing content and videos on this subject. As a basic intro, maybe this might be helpful to some.

Just as 2 meter FM took off in the 1960s and 70s, digital voice is now a growing facet of the hobby which combines radio, computers, and networking, that is technically interesting and challenging.

Please follow and like us: