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Building a D-Star Compatible Hotspot D-Star Compatible Hotspot using GMSK Node Adapter setup guide by K6JM

NOTE: While GMSK Modems are no longer available -- people now buy MMDVM Modems or MMDVM Hotspot boards and just configure them for D-Star-- this page may still be of value if you have a GMSK Modem board or are just curious.  So this page is mostly as it was during the days when GMSK Modems were the only game in town....

If you have an ICOM D-Star radio but are not near a D-Star repeater, a Hotspot allows your radio to access DPlus-connected DStar repeaters and reflectors.  Or you may just want to control how and where you link to other repeaters/reflectors, without disturbing other users of a nearby D-Star repeater.  All you need is an analog radio that has a 9600 data port, or gives access to the FM discriminator and modulator.  I put up the Hotspot because I already had a spare analog radio with Data port, as well as a spare laptop, so this option was incrementally less expensive than the popular DV Access Point or DVAP.  In addition, I set my analog radio to 5 watts, giving me somewhat more range.  A simplex (one radio) Hotspot can later be converted to a full duplex repeater, which I did a year later.  There are several GMSK modem boards available, and reports on the internet indicate they all are good choices.   Be sure to subscribe to the gmsk_dv_node Yahoo Group for information and help with Hotspots.

D-Star Compatible Hotspot using GMSK Node Adapter
Diagram by Mark McGregor, KB9KHM, and used by permission

Here is how I set up and configured my Mini Hotspot.  There's nothing new here -- it was all learned from the primary documentation available.  This just assembles what I did in one place in case I or others need to do the same thing again.  I will do my best to keep this up to date as new boards and software come out, but if you see that I'm missing something, please let me know.

I created a Simplex Hotspot with a Windows PC using the following components:
Here is all it takes to get the Hotspot up and running:

Step 1 - registers the Hotspot callsigns on the DStar network.
Step 2 - installs tools used to configure and test the hotspot board, and for Windows XP, a special USB driver that's needed.
Step 3 - sets jumpers and optionally loads firmware onto the MHS board's computer chip.
Step 4 - configures and tests the board using NAWinCFG and NAWinTEST. 
Step 5 - installs and configures your hotspot software (DVAR Hotspot, WinDV or G4KLX's Repeater and ircDDBGateway).

Step 1 - Registering the Hotspot on the D-Star network

You need to register at least one "terminal-id" at a D-Star repeater.  Depending on how you decide to configure your Hotspot, you may need to register up to three terminal-ids.  While the following terms won't make sense until you've made it through Step 5 of this document, I'll lay the rules out here.  Note that what most of us call "Band Module" or "Port" is called "initial" on the registration screens.

Since it can take up to 24 hours for a callsign to propagate through the network, try to do this step before your board is ready for use.

  1. Registration is a two step process.  If you've never registered, read D-Star Self Registration Instructions and perform steps 1 through 6 of that document.  Go to the Registration page of the D-Star repeater closest to you.  Typically, if that repeater is KA6XXX, then it will have a DPlus Dashboard page (at http://ka6xxx.dstargateway.org/) with a link to its Registration page. When you receive the confirmation email, you can proceed.
  2. Log on using your callsign (upper case) and password.
  3. Click on the Personal Information tab (upper right of the main page).  Shown below this section is what my entry looks like after I completed the updates.
  4. You need one entry with a blank "Initial" column.  If you've registered with a gateway in the past, that will already be there. 

    If you've never registered, do the following steps:

    • Click the check-box on the left of the 1st line.
    • Enter a blank (press the space bar) in the Initial box.
    • Do NOT click the RPT box.
    • Enter your callsign in the pcname box.
  5. Create a 2nd terminal with "initial" C if your hotspot will be on 2 meters, or B if on 70cm.
    • Click on the check-box on the left of the next line.
    • In the Initial box, enter a B or C.
    • Do NOT click the RPT box.
    • Enter a unique pcname, for example <callsign>-b or <callsign>-c.
  6. Click the Update button.
  7. Here is an example of having entered several terminals.  For simplex Hotspots, the "R" terminal isn't needed.

Step 2 - Install USB driver and NATools - for users with DUTCH*Star firmware

  1. The following is done on the computer the Hotspot board will be connected to and where the DVAR Hot Spot or WinDV software will run.  If possible, choose a computer with USB 2.0 ports.  If your computer has only USB 3.0 ports, either get a powered USB 2.0 hub, or use another computer with USB 2.0 ports.
  2. Go to this copy of the DUTCH*Star website
  3. Under Drivers and Tools, click on the latest version of NAtools for Windows (32-bit).  Save it to a folder of your choice (write the name down).  The saved file is a .exe file.
  4. Using My Computer or File Explorer, go to the above folder.  You want to launch the .exe file (example: natools32-1.0.15.exe). For recent versions of Windows, including Windows 8, you must "Run as Administrator".  (An easy way is to right-click on the exe file and choose "Run as Administrator".)
  5. Install NATools: 
  6. If you try to run NAWinCFG or NAWinTEST and get an error message about "RICHTX32.OCX" missing,  install it by following these instructions.

Step 3 - Set Jumpers and optionally install firmware   

  1. Set the jumpers on your board.
    • Star*Board (by Matrix, sold by MoenComm) - following jumper settings are the defaults as shipped; you should not need to change them:
      • SW1: 1+2    DCOS
      • SW2: 2+3    Normal SQL
      • SW3: 1+2    Always jumpered except when loading firmware
      • SW4: 2+3    RSSI Enabled (this puts the board in "Version 5" mode
    • MHS from DUTCH*Star (jumpers may depend on radio, the following are most common settings).  These settings apply to MHS v 1.10, but probably will work for other versions:
      •  SW1 jumper 1-2 (positive COS)
      • SW2 jumper 1-2 (Digital COS or D-COS)
      • SW3 jumper 2-3 (positive COS)
      • SW7 jumper 1-2 (power from USB)
    • NQSMHS (Mark Phillips) - though the default jumpers put the board in Version 4 mode, I recommend Version 5 mode:
      • SW1 jumper on MHS board should be DOWN -- looking down at board with connectors to right (USB powered).
      • SW2 jumper should be ON or bridged to adjacent pin.  (Temporary for loading the firmware).
      • SW3 should be ON or connected to adjacent pin (Version 5 mode).
      • SW4 should be RIGHT (Version 5 mode).
  2. Install firmware if needed.  NOTE: Some boards come with firmware installed.  Others include the license, but you need to download and install the firmware yourself.  Skip this step if your board already has firmware installed.
    • If you don't have a license, please contact Jim-K6JM.
    • Follow instructions.  When 2nd email is received, get the serial number and add that to the http://www.dutch-star.eu license page.
    • Download the firmware to the folder where NATools is located, e.g. c:/Program Files/NATools/BIN (note: may be different for Vista and Windows 7 users).
    • The firmware file will be called node-<callsign>.hex, e.g. node-K6JM.hex.
    • Place the board into "Program" or bootloader mode.  This varies by board.  For the Star*Board, move the jumper from SW3 to the Program jumper.  Use the board layout diagram on the back of the Star*Board manual to find SW3 and the Program pins.
    • Plug in USB cable to connect board to PC. USB Hubs may cause problems -- plug directly into your PC's USB 2.0 port.
    • Update firmware.
      • Start NAWinCFG. It will say "Node Adapter not detected".  This is normal when in bootloader mode.  Ignore this message and continue.
      • Under the Tools menu, select Update Firmware.
      • Click Browse and select the .hex firmware file.
      • On the Update Firmware window, click the "Update EEprom data" box -- this is normally done only the first time and is important.
      • Click Update.  When done, the Status message should say "Update Succeeded!".  Click Close.
    • Remove USB cable
    • Remove the program jumper (and place it on it's normal jumper, as appropriate).

Step 4 - Run NAWinCFG and NAWinTEST to configure and test the board

  1. It's helpful to read the Dutch-Star Hot Spot manual, section 4.
  2. Configure
    1. Connect the board to the radio with appropriate cable.
    2. Using USB cable, connect board to PC.  Depending on the version of your board, there may be a green LED lit indicating the board is powered up.  If this is the first time a board with DUTCH*Star firmware has been plugged into this PC, Windows will see the new hardware and configure the driver installed back in Step 2 when you did a complete install of NATools.
    3. Set the analog radio for simplex mode on an appropriate frequency.  Set power to lowest setting.
    4. Start NAWinCFG.
    5. If the program can find your board, it will display the version of firmware it is running.  If it can't, most likely there is a USB driver problem.  Check NATools documentation.  This is what the initial screen looks like with a board running PA4YBR's firmware:
    6. You may want to set Delay Time to 250 or 300 milliseconds.
    7. I recommend you disable AutoPolarity, then find the correct Inverts settings so the firmware doesn't try to make that decision each time.
    8. Click on Mode.  The following settings are suggested. Do NOT check COS Check, which means the firmware will operate in SoftCOS mode (normally the best way of knowing when a valid D-Star signal is being received). 

      Board specific notes:
      • Star*Board:
        • Check only CRC Check, Last Frame, Half Duplex and RSSI Report
        • It's CRITICAL that RSSI Report be checked if SW4 is set as recommended to 2+3
      • NQSMHS -RSSI Report must be checked, since in step 3.a we set jumpers for V5 mode. (The board's jumpers and the firmware's RSSI Report must match.  RSSI Report enabled means V5 mode.)
      • DUTCH*Star MHS - The new MHS board default to V5 mode, so check the RSSI Report box.
    9. Click Save, then Close
  3. Test
    1. Turn on your DStar radio.  Set to DV mode to same simplex frequency as the analog radio.
    2. Start NAWinTEST.  It should display the Firmware name, similar to the following:
    3. Click on RF Read.  Then click on Start.  Using your DStar radio, transmit a test message.  The RF Header section should display MyCall and YourCall.  Normally, RPT1 and 2 will show "DIRECT".  This is a feature of ICOM DStar radios in simplex mode.  The window will look like this:
    4. If the RF Header section is not filled in, you may have to try RX Invert in NAWinCFG. 
    5. If RF Header info is being received, the line after the occasional blank line should display in green most of the time.  Adjust the RX pot on the MHS board if the RF Header or the data after blank lines is not green.
    6. Click Stop, then Close.  Click Echo Test, then Start.  Transmit on your DStar radio.  When you stop transmitting, the NAWinTEST software will transmit your callsign, then a welcome message (defaults to PA4YBR's recorded message), followed by your just-recorded voice played back.  If the RF Header information, or the echo test does not sound correct, adjust the TX pot on the MHS board.
    7. If your D-Star radio can decode nothing, not even garbled audio, then go back to NAWinCFG and toggle the TX Invert setting, Save and try EchoTest again and re-do step 8 and adjust the TX trimpot.
    8. If you have a NQSMHS V2 board, you may find the TX audio level is too low.  To fix, Mark G7LTT offers this solution: "simply clip the right hand leg of the TX pot (with sockets facing right) and your TX drive will be restored."
    9. When all is working, click Stop, then Close, then on the main window, click Close again.

Step 5 - Install and configure hotspot software

There are several excellent software applications for your hotspot.  This is the software that links your GMSK Modem to the internet.  I can recommend all of the following:

This completes setup and configuration.  Enjoy!

    Jim - K6JM

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Copyright © 2009-2021 James M. Moen. All rights reserved.