First Impressions: iCOM-2200H / UT-118 D-Star Rig

My Foray into D-Star
After month of hearing just how cool this new D-Star thing is from the other folks in the area that have been using the mode, I finally took the plunge. I decided to go with the iCOM IC-2200H 2 meter single band FM radio with the UT-118 digital D-Star board option. Cost delivered from HRO was $349.94 before a $20 rebate from iCOM. I do not intend this in any way to be a complete review of the 2200H. I have not even made an FM contact with this radio, and may never use it in that mode.
Why the IC-2200H? I ruled out the handhelds because I wanted the power and rugged build. The 2820 is the current flagship VHF/UHF D-Star rig but it has a price tag to match and while it is a true duplex dual-bander, it can only encode/decode a single D-Star data stream. For example, you could simultaneously monitor a QSO on VHF and a QSO on UHF in FM, but only a single D-Star QSO. The ID-800 is dual band but in my eyes, adding UHF capability was not worth a near doubling in price over the 2200H/UT118.
Going the money saving, single band route also has a cost in somewhat less ease of use and limited memory for D-Star programming. The display is a segmented type rather than the beautiful and informative matrix on the 2820. Much of the information tagged to D-Star that adds to the “cool factor” can only be retrieved by digging down through menus. In terms of D-Star voice and data RF communication however, this lower cost unit does everything its big brothers can do (on VHF only). I will leave the technical details of D-Star to other resources, but I will clarify the limited memory issue on the 2200H/UT118. There is memory storage for 207 channels, but these channels, when storing D-Star information, can contain one each of six “Your Call”, Repeater 1” , and “Repeater 2” call signs. The 2820 has around 500 memories that can draw upon 60 each of the call groups.
So, there is a reason that this is a lower priced radio, but to me it is worth the trade-off. I am technically oriented and not afraid to dig though the menus. I also will probably eventually own a more capable D-Star radio, but after seeing the slow speed data application I knew that I would want a radio dedicated to that task and this 2200H will eventually take on that sole role.
iCOM does not sell the IC-2200H with the D-Star UT-118 module installed, but it is a very simple task. I am going to show you in the following pictures. Step one, remove the large selector knob (it is friction fit, just pull it off). Next remove the two screws on either side of the front panel with an Allen wrench (one was hidden behind the knob). Gently pull the front away from the body of the radio a couple of inches. Mind the ribbon cable mating the two pieces and do not unplug it. The first picture is the IC-200H with the front panel removed. The UT-118 board is wrapped in plastic next to the quarter for scale.
2200h-1.jpg
Lay the front piece display down and you will see a cream colored connector on the circuit board that is the receptacle for the UT-118. If you are not wearing a grounding strap, be sure to touch a grounded object to discharge any static before you handle the circuit boards.
2200h-2.jpg
Plug the UT-118 board in to the receptacle.
2200h-3.jpg
Replace the front panel, minding that the ribbon connectors are tucked between the devices and not pinched. Replace the screws and knob. Done! There are no jumpers or menu settings; D-Star is now ready to go. The IC-2200H is pictured on top of my Yaesu FT-8900.
2200h-ft8900.jpg
I was able make the required entries and have a D-Star QSO on the first try; despite the complexity of the manual and the menu system (the manual is 92 pages by the way, only about 30 pages shy of the 2820’s). I had built a cable before my radio arrived for use with the slow speed data. The required cable is three conductors; Rx data, Tx data and ground with a female 9 pin “D” serial plug on one end and a 2.5 mm “micro” three pole (stereo) plug on the other. The radio speaks RS-232 levels, so no circuitry is needed to match. Just plug it in to your PC serial port and start communicating with D-Chat or D-Rats. I had one revelation in using the low speed text capability. It is effortless to go from typing short messages into the data system to picking up the microphone and talking. The radio will queue the data and send it during pauses in the voice activity. If there is not heavy message traffic (sending files) one frequency is very usable for both voice and data. Very neat.
When you get your D-Star radio, look on 145.100 (Simplex) for the local activity. I am using a discone antenna at 20 feet and I can make the Surrey BC D-Star repeater easily with 10 watts from Silver Beach. I forgot to mention that the IC-2200H can deliver 65 Watts, switchable to 25, 10, or 5 watts and the case is fanless with a lot of heat sink fins designed into the case. The unit did get fairly hot during my use, even at 25 watts.

A note on audio quality: I did not comment on the audio in my first draft because I was already familiar with it from past use of the mode.  The audio from a digital voice signal is decidedly “digital”.  It has a kind of mechanical quality that is a result of changing the human voice into a 2400 bps data stream and back again (no small task by the way).  Voices are very recognizable in terms of knowing who you are talking to, and are”bright”, clear and readable.  It is not as pleasant to listen to as FM, to be sure, but it absolutely gets the message across.  Although the difference is not as pronounced as that between AM and SSB, that will give an idea of the trade-off in audio quality for narrower bandwidth albeit a sharper more readable signal at marginal strengths.

12-May-2009  Update Since the stats show this is still the most popular article on my blog I thought I would add a few comments after putting more than a year of use on the 2200.  Since we added a D-STAR repeater to our area a couple of months ago I added a 2820 mobile and a 92AD HT to my digital collection.  I am currently still running the 2200 as my D-STAR shack radio.  The rig is still performing very well although I can tell you that the heat sink gets uncomfortably hot to the touch when running at full output (65 watts).  Be sure to keep a decent airflow space around this rig in your installation.

Although you are getting a lot of performance for your dollar with the 2200 plus UT-118 DSTAR module, there is a considerable “ease of use” penalty versus the other more costly iCOM digital radios.  As mentioned in my earlier text, many features and informational displays can only be accessed via a rather cryptic menu system which is hampered by the segmented LCD display.  Once you start using D-STAR repeaters, the six callsign limitation is also a source of frustration.  Due to the way DSTAR addressing works (ending a call sign field with a command letter) it is conceivable to use all six memories for a single repeater.  The 200 channel memory architecture of the 2200 limits you to these six pre-selected call signs, where as the 2820 and newer radios with built-in digital capability allow unique call signs in every memory channel field.  I found that “what works for me” on the 2200 is to set the Repeater Auto-Write to “ON” but to leave the “Auto RX Call Write” to “OFF”.  This makes the rig automatically fill the RPT-1 and RPT-2 fields with the last received values, but leaves the “YOUR CALL” at a value you set (usually ‘CQCQCQ’).

Caveats aside, I am still very happy with this radio.  I have used it in my “go kit” and it travels well.  I have also used it with the optional GPS input in a mobile environment.  Although it is still a viable option for a budget conscious ham, if I were buying today I would look closely at the new ID-880.  My understanding is that the street price of that rig is $499 with free software and UHF capability (not dual receive like the 2820 though).  A reading of the manual shows that it has a much more capable memory design and menu system, although it still does rely on a segmented LCD display.  Assuming the 220H/UT-118 continues to sell for around $350, that extra $150 for the ID-880 for UHF, computer software, and easier more capable memory and menus is worth considering.

-KNØN

22 thoughts on “First Impressions: iCOM-2200H / UT-118 D-Star Rig

  1. Thank you for the very informative article. I was able to pick up a 5-month-old 2200H for a good price. At the time, I didn’t know it was D-Star capable. I was reading up on the subject when I discovered I didn’t have to buy a new radio– I already had it!

    Enthusiasm was significantly diminished when I found out the UT-118 was almost twice the cost of the radio. What do they have in there, plutonium ICs?

    TNX, OM

    Reply
  2. Hi

    My FT 8900 R is not work
    is show busy (blink !!! ) but no sound
    i reset (all reset) can’t fix it

    how to fix it

    Thank you

    hs8jyx

    Thailand

    Reply
  3. My area repeater is 440 not 2M but this was helpful. We nharc are selling raffle tickets for 2M equipment.

    Reply
  4. I’m thinking about buying this radio,,I was first just going to buy a new 2 meter mobile,,but all day I’ve been reading about it,and I’m 99.9% sure I”ll have the 2200H plus the d star.
    Thanks for your information,,it’s great to hear from someone one it,,besides the little info from a website of a store.
    73 VO1STE

    Reply
  5. Dear Sir:

    I have had a difficult time programming my 2200h. Is this the only d star radio that you have to program all 6 R1C and R2C areas if you want to do 3 repeaters? The directions are very hard to follow. I got the software and it did help after spending hours on the phone with Fred and Karl from Icom. They are very helpfull and patient. I also want to thank Bruce from AES in Orlando. Could you explain a bit more about the auto write features? What is the significance of those for auto repeater and auto call sign? Is that so one can see the call sign of the person you are talking to and the repeater that that the person is coming from? Is the 2200h the only radio that lets you send your location at initial key up only and than you have to go back to the menu for the next qso?

    Thank you,

    Ben
    KD4DWP

    Reply
    • Hi Ben- Everyone who uses iCOM D-STAR radios share your frustrations, especially using the 2200H. I have a friend that owns the 2 meter HT that uses the same board so he faces the same issues. As far as I know, all of the other rigs, 91, 82, 80 HT and 2820 and 880H mobiles have more memories for repeaters.

      Auto Repeater takes the callsign of the last received repeater and puts it into the repeater memory so when you transmit, it will have that repeater in the address. You do not have to use all the 6 memories for R1C and R2C, etc, but keep in mind that the AUTO functions will overwrite whatever is in the first memory.

      Similarly, Auto Callsign takes the last received callsign and puts it in the YOURCALL memory of your radio, so your transmission will be addressed to that individual.

      Most folks around here just leave CQCQCQ in their YOURCALL and that is what I do, so I keep AUTO CALLSIGN turned off. I do use the AUTO REPEATER feature so my reply will be routed back through the repeater the way it came.

      Regarding the location info, I assume you are talking about the short tag that you can put on your transmission that usually says “Brian at CN88TS” or similar. That is the TXMESSAGE (TXM on the display). If you put the text in there and set MES to ON, your transmissions will include that “tagline”. As far as I know, to READ these from other people on the 2200H, you have to step through the menus, so I never bother. 2820 and other rig users see that text on their main display.

      If you have an external GPS hooked up, the 2200H can be set to send your coordinates with every transmission and/or beacon it at intervals.

      In short- I feel your pain. The 2200H limited display makes it very difficult to understand and program, even putting aside the errors in the poor documentation.

      Reply
  6. Dear KN0N,

    Thank you for the information. I was wondering about the Txm again. If I set it to on and transmit the other party sees my information. If I transmit again it defaults to off so I find myself going back into the menu to set it on again. Also I find that in rpt1 and rpt2 or I think for the 2200h it is r1c and r2c that if one puts the r1 info in first than goes to r2 the r2 will overwrite what one puts into memory. I have 3 repeaters in my area and have used up all 6 slots. 1-3 slot are for the c port and 4-6 are for the gateway. I hope I have explained this well and look forward to your additional comments.

    Thank you,

    Ben
    KD4DWP

    Reply
  7. ANYONE KNOW IF THE IC-2200H (EUR) VERSION WHICH TAKES THE UT-118 CAN BE MOD TO WORK AS IC-2200H (EXP) VERSION WITH UT-114 DIGITAL VOICE /SCRAMBLER UNIT INSTALLED?

    Reply
  8. I built the IC-2200H data cable as shown on page 5 of the manual but for the life of me can’t get it to talk with the radio.
    The cable works on my ID-91AD with D-RATS and RS-91 software, but does not work with the 2200H with D-RATS or CS-2200H software. Any magic inside the setup of the radio to make it work?

    Reply
  9. Make sure you have ATX = “ON” GPS = “OFF” and SPD= “96″ on the 2200H. The 2200H can only use the cable you made (2.5mm) for D-STAR or GPS data. The radio programming (memories and settings) is done through the speaker jack (3.5mm) with a different cable. iCOM does not implement any “handshaking” in their serial interfaces so it can be very difficult to troubleshoot (as you have found). Good luck!

    Reply
  10. IS THE ICOM UT-114 MODULE AN AES ENCRYPTION UNIT AS I READ RECENTLY IN A MAG ARTICLE THAT IT IS…CAN ANYONE CONFIRM ONE WAY OR ANOTHER THANKS.

    Reply
  11. I have become interested in APRS and wonder if the combination of IC-2200h and UT-118 would allow me to properly connect to the digi-repeaters in my area. And, what would be the cabling that is necessary. I the past, when I had a Kenwood 241 and the KPC-3+ a cable was obtained from a third party source (Buxcomm), but I am unable to decipher my needs from that web site. Any help would be appreciated.

    Reply
    • The UT-118 is for D-STAR capability only. It would allow “DPRS” use, but not APRS. APRS utilizes AFSK packet capability so you would need to use your KPC-3+ with a cable made for the 2200H.

      Reply

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