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On the go and want to stay in contact with friends, take a digital voice hotspot along for the ride; your radio is not able to reach the nearest digital voice repeater, use a hotspot; you want some digital voice flexibility, use a hotspot.
Since most of you have been hearing about the new kid on the block, the openSpot2 hotspot - let's go there first.
openSpot2 is just the latest in a long list of digital voice hotspots filled with exciting features. openSpot2 does on-going automatic firmware updates, (you can also do them manually) and SharkRF is continuously making improvements; their online manual that is kept current can be found at http://manuals.sharkrf.com/openspot2/en/#page-top.
Regardless of your digital voice mode of choice, (C4FM/Fusion, DMR, D-STAR, etc.,) openSpot2 is simple and easy to set up. Rob Brodovsky, K6UDA has started an openSpot2 workshop YouTube series https://youtu.be/zc2jOE6vPw4 that will walk you through, but most won't need any help setting up the openSpot2. There are a ton of openSpot2 YouTube videos out there already, but most of them don't go into any detail, Bob's does. openSpot requires a computer, cell phone or other such devices to set up, but once it is set up all you need to use it is your radio. The list of openSpot2 pro's are endless, but it does lack one feature other hotspots (depending on the software used) have for C4FM/Fusion; there is no Wire-X function. To change reflectors/rooms using your radio, you need to use DTMF tones that can be a pain to get to work. That said, SharkRF has announced that they'll be adding the Wires-X function sometime this month (January). Please note that the D-STAR mode on openSpot2 is controlled with normal D-STAR RF commands that have always worked well.
openSpot2 side note: Rusell Thomas has a YouTube video that gives details on a hard shell case and battery that is available on Amazon for compact openSpot2 portable use https://youtu.be/Apt_N0GMXkU I have that hard shell case setup, and it's perfect for my openSpot2 needs, plus I found that the battery will run the openSpot2 for a good four days of heavy use.
Let's not forget the original openSpot, sometimes referred to now as openSpot1. It is not as easy to set up (although close), it not as small nor as portable as the openSpot2, but it is an excellent device and works very well. I'll be using my openSpot1 at our cabin with a 10-watt amp and outdoor antenna to provide digital voice communications for hams visiting the Grandjean, Idaho area. Camp, hike, backpack, fish and hunt while remaining in contact with your ham friends (smile). Note: I also have an FM cross-band repeater setup to work the Pilot Peak FM 145.310 repeater for those using hand-helds.
There is a long list of great digital voice hotspots, besides the openSpot. I own, have used, or I am still using most of them. The first hotspot to come out was the DVDONGLE followed by the DVAP, both were D-STAR only and limited to the original D-STAR REF reflectors. The DVAP is still available new, and you can get the DVDONGLE used, both will work with 3rd party (free) software that brings them up to date with the same capabilities of the newer hotspots.
One hotspot that was popular for a long time and still many prefer to use is the DV4mini. The DV4mini is a dongle device that can be plugged into the side of your computer/laptop or used with a Raspberry Pi and does multi-mode digital voice. It works directly with your computer so that a radio is not needed and/or it will work with your radios. I worked several Fusion stations using my DV4mini long before I purchased Yaesu Fusion radios, same is true with DMR, and of course, it works with D-STAR. Unfortunately, the company making the DV4mini decided to stop and focus more on their commercial interests. Their website is still there, and you can still buy their DV4mini 2m VHF version. Note: They still support all their DV4 products...
Another popular hotspot is the DVmega product line. I have and use several of their products. Except maybe for their DVstick dongle, DVmega products are not plug-n-play, but once set up they work very well. That said, I just now noticed that they've come out with a multi-mode Digital Voice Internet radio for Fusion, DMR and D-Star called "DVMEGA Cast" http://www.dvmega.nl/dvmega/. The neat thing about a digital voice Internet radio is that you don't need to buy several radios and all that is needed to get on all the different (popular) digital voice modes (Fusion, DMR, D-Star, etc). According to DVMega, the DVMega-Cast will soon be upgradeable to include an RF module so that it can also use it with your radios as a hotspot while still functioning as an Internet radio. Current cost: $474.83 with shipping. I know, because I just now placed my order (Happy New Year).
There are several Digital Voice hotspots on the market, and more are sure to come (competition is excellent and growing stronger).
Except for the DV4 products and SharkRF's openSpot 1 & 2, most of these digital voice devices use 3rd party software. The most popular software for hotspots (including my newly purchased DVmega-Cast) today is Pi-Star. Pi-Star is a multi-mode digital voice software providing a means for working C4FM/Fusion, DMR, D-STAR and P25 with your radios that include operating cross-mode between Fusion & DMR, Fusion & NXDN, Fusion & P25, DMR & Fusion, and DMR & NXDN. It also includes features such as monitoring all those modes. I might add that the Fusion Wires-X function has worked on pi-star for quite some time now, openSpot is playing catchup on that feature.
I need to point out that openSpots, DV4 products, and hotspots such as DVmega can all have problems that affect how they perform, (mostly due to the Internet performance they connected to); ALL of these products have advanced software settings to fix such issues if and when it becomes necessary. To claim one product is bad or causing problems that another one is not is complete nonsense and usually due to produce bias and nothing more. Some products are more user-friendly during setup and some that have features the others do not, but there is none that I know of that is better than the other when it comes to on-the-air performance.
I hope this information is helpful...
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