The Chinese have now successfully copied the DV Mega digital radio board (also called the MMDVM) that had been the key to many of the $200-300 hotspots many hams have been using to get on DMR. I put mine together last year by buying a DV Mega 70cm board and mating it with a Raspberry Pi 3. It’s worked like a champ, but I spent about $200 for the two boards, then added a $100 case and power supply that has allowed it to run on the cylindrical 18650 Lithium cells. All together, I spent about $330.
Now you can buy a tiny hotspot that does everything mine does (except the batteries), and now including a neat little color display, for $105 on Amazon or eBay. I decided to buy the one on Amazon and check it out. Here is a link to the one I now have:
It comes with a 3 foot USB to USB mini cable that is used to power it up. The only thing you have to do to get it started is to copy a small file that has your Wi-Fi network name and password to the micro SD memory card that comes with the hotspot. This allows you to reboot it and then edit the details in a web page that hooks it up to the right BrandMeister server and has you name, DMR ID, and a few other things. You should order a micro SD-to-USB adapter if your laptop doesn’t already have an SD slot. That’s only another $8 or so.
The software that runs on this hotspot is called Pi-Star, and is a collaborative effort between a guy in Shenzhen, China, and a U.S. ham, so you likely won’t encounter much of that inscrutable Chinglish verbiage that often plagues Chinese radio buyers.
I’m very impressed with both the Pi-Star software/firmware, and the tiny size of this neat little unit. Running on the standard USB 5 volts, you can grab it and plug it into your computer, your phone charger, or maybe even a USB port in your late-model car. It takes about 2 minutes to boot up (watch the display for a clue), then you’re good to go…maybe. Did I forget to mention that you must carry around a Wi-Fi to cellular phone modem? You can enter the names of several Wi-Fi networks, and the Pi-Star software will switch to whatever it finds. Many people don’t realize that they have free or low-cost ($25/mo) Wi-Fi cellular modems in their smartphones. This little guy will work with any of them, as long as it’s using the 2.4 GHz band. Sorry no 5 Gig.
Anyway, you can’t beat the price, and I can tell you that mine works as well as my $300+ unit.