DMR Ham Radio Articles

How to choose your Radio

There are many sources of new and used DMR radios. As of this date, you can’t walk into an amateur radio store and buy a DMR radio, but that may soon change. Presently all DMR radios are professional (commercial) radios marketed primarily to commercial radio users. If you want to purchase a new DMR radio for ham use, you can easily find a dealer, and some dealers are “ham friendly” and will offer reasonable discounts to hams.

Check with other DMR users or on DMR related websites for further information. You can also search on eBay™ and other online flea markets for both new and used radios. Larger hamfests may also have DMR dealers or sellers in their flea markets.

Here are a few things you need to know before buying a DMR radio:

New or Used. For used DMR radios, it is buyer beware! Just remember that you will not be able to repair a non-working DMR radio unless you have the technical skills and necessary test equipment, and that test equipment can cost hundreds of times the cost of the radio. The street price for new DMR radios is ~$200-$800. Arguably higher quality, name brand radios, such as those bearing the name Motorola, typically sell for more used than brand new radios cost from newer entrants into the DMR market.

You typically get what you pay for; higher priced radios usually have more features, are better constructed and can handle more abuse than less expensive radios. VHF, UHF, or 900MHz. UHF is the most commonly used DMR band in the US and world wide, but because of military radar in some US areas, as well as different UHF public service frequency allocations in Canada, only VHF repeaters may be used in certain areas. In most areas, however, DMR activity may be found on VHF and UHF bands. As of April 2014, there are only two amateur 902-928MHz.

DMR repeaters in the US

If you are purchasing UHF equipment, make sure it covers the amateur band (420-450 MHz) from the factory. No one currently manufactures a multi-band DMR radio; there is little, if any, professional demand for such a radio and the amateur market is too small, at this time, to incentivize manufacturers to build one. Programming Software. Some manufactures supply Programming software free.

Motorola Solutions charges ~$260 for a three year subscription (which covers all their models within a region) to their software and updates. DMR radios, because they are professional radios, typically do not allow keyboard programming. If a vendor charges for the programming software, do not ask another ham to bootleg a copy for you. If you have a legal copy, you may program radios for others, but you cannot legally distribute the software. Software piracy is illegal, and if caught, it could cost you greatly in the end. Programming Cable. Some radios use standard USB cables for programming, and some use cables that can cost upward of $80.

Number of Channels

Some radios have as few as 16 channels while others have as many as 1,000 channels. You will need a channel for each frequency, Color Code and Talk Group combination. You can easily use 3 to10 memory channels for each DMR repeater you program into your radio. Display or Non-Display. Some radios have only a channel selector knob, while others have displays (monochrome or color) that will show Talk Group and ID information. Some displays only show channel number.

Visually Impaired Operators

Consideration must be given to the channel selection knob on the radios. Most of the non-display models have channel selection knobs that have fixed stops instead of 360° degree continuous rotation to allow the operator to find channel one. Some LCD display models also have fixed stops on the channel selector knob; these include some Hytera and CSI radios. Some models offer programmable voice announcements. DTMF Keypad. Some radios have a 12-button DTMF keypad while others do not. Mototrbo™ repeaters support a proprietary autopatch feature (Digital Telephone Interconnect, requiring an entitlement key costing ~$550). This feature may not work with non-Mototrbo™ radios.


GPS is available on some models, but DMR does not support APRS (Amateur Packet Reporting System). On professional networks, one of the time slots is typically allocated for location reporting and is interconnected to server based dispatch applications. GPS will shorten battery life if it is enabled. Bluetooth. Some higher end radios have Bluetooth built in for wireless headsets. I find this a great feature at work and home so I can listen without bothering others. Some radios with Bluetooth support data and programming via the Bluetooth wireless connection to the radio. Some models have Bluetooth adapters optionally available. Bluetooth will shorten battery life if enabled. Analog. The Mototrbo™ SL75xx models don’t support analog FM. If analog FM is supported, it needs to be wideband FM because wideband FM is used on most legacy amateur repeaters. Current FCC rules require narrowband for most commercial/government services. For DMR radios from some manufacturers, this requires a programming entitlement key or a different version of the programming software. Warning. Some DMR capable radios are available as analog only in their base configuration. The user may later add DMR for an additional license fee. This is because some manufacturers are discontinuing their analog non-DMR radios, while offering the DMR radios at a reduced MSRP if the digital mode is not enabled. On these radios, the customer later can upgrade the radio to operate DMR if their needs change, for an additional fee. External Antenna on Portable. Not all portable radios support the connection of an external antenna, except for testing and alignment purposes.

Using an adapter to connect an external antenna can place undue stress on the portable antenna connector which may result in premature equipment failure and expensive repair. If you are going to use an external antenna adapter, I recommend an adapter cable that uses RG174 size cable to reduce stress on the radio’s connector. Some Mototrbo™ models, such as the XPR6000 series, support an external microphone with an antenna mounted on the top. Portable or Mobile. Portables are available in the 2-5 watt range; mobiles are available with a maximum of 10-45 watts.

I recommend that your first DMR radio be a handheld type unless you live beyond the handheld coverage of your local DMR repeater. If you spend significant time in your vehicle commuting, you will find a mobile a good investment. Mobiles can also be used as a base station with the addition of an external power supply. External Amplifier. Many external amplifiers will not work with DMR radios unless they are specifically designed to meet the fast switching requirements of TDMA on DMR. If you need more output power than a handheld DMR radio provides, purchase a mobile DMR radio. Suppliers of DMR Radios

The following brands of user radios are currently available or will hopefully soon be available in the US. There are a number of other manufacturers making DMR radios overseas that do not have distribution channels in the US. Motorola Solutions and Hytera also offer repeaters with their respective proprietary IPSCs. Vertex Standard repeaters do not support Internet connectivity. Many manufacturers offer a variety of DMR radio models, including portables and mobiles. Currently there are no fixed base DMR radios available; typically a mobile is used with an AC power supply in fixed base configurations. Some manufacturers of DMR radios may never make them available in the US market because of the cost of obtaining FCC approval.

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