My thoughts on FT8

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  • Updated 2 months ago
I have never been a blogger but I guess it is never too late in life to become one in the Internet age.  As most of you know, FT8 has exploded on all the bands at a rate I don't recall anytime in my ham radio lifetime.  I wrote a blog about my thoughts on the subject (IMHO) that I hope you will enjoy.  

You can find it at: https://www.flexradio.com/ft8-tipping-point-for-ham-radio/

73,
Gerald
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Gerald - K5SDR, Employee

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Posted 2 months ago

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N3RC

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Well said! I agree and I am contester/dxer but discovered 6m because of FT8!
73  Roger N3RC
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Dave - W6OVP

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BRAVO Gerald! After 64 yrs on the air I find FT8 (and the other new modes) to be genuinely exciting developments for and from Ham Radio. It was SDR that brought me back to HF Ham Radio after a 20 yr "vacation". And now new modes keep it fresh. 73 Dave.
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Bob Craig, K8RC

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Nice opinion piece, Gerald.

I've noticed that, at least among my acquaintances, that the same people proclaiming that "FT8 is killing amateur radio" are the same group of people who proclaimed that "no-code will kill amateur radio". 

I enjoy FT8 for all the reasons you mentioned. There ARE still a few tricks that help the true DXer make the contact before the greater portion of the "pileup" so there is some skill to call on. As far as the lack of "conversation" involved, I'll pass on the rag chewing. I will talk to friends from time-to-time on SSB, FM or even conventional RTTY. When I'm chasing DX or even band-states, however, I'm not really interested in the weather or your dog's name.

The real draw for me in my 52 years of being a ham is the variety. I've been a traffic handler ("Radio Relay" are the middle letters of ARRL), a masochistic contester, an emergency communicator, an Honor Roll DXer and one of the old time "heavy metal" RTTY pioneers (DXCC-RTTY #317).

FT8 and working on my 5BWAS (anybody in KL7 on 80M??) is what's keeping me out of bars these days. My only question is:

  "What's next?"

73, Bob, K8RC

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Justin - KL2D

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I’d give FT8 on 80M a try .. ;-)

Justin
“KL”2D
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rjguidrysr

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Loved it Gerald and your team is doing a great job to be sure we can use the new technology.
Keep up the writing as well, very well done.  I was also happy to see a 9-year-old "EXTRA" class sent me a card for an RTTY contest contract.  That will help keep you going for sure. KD9LFP if you hear him let him know he is welcome to our club!
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Lawrence Gray

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Check out JS8 Call. All of the weak signal performance of FT8, but you can have an actual QSO.
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WA5GP

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But you cant get to the software with out belonging to that group, so what good is that...
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rjguidrysr

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FOUND THE SITE
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Alex - DH2ID, Elmer

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Thank you for the info, Lawrence! I've downloaded and installed JS8call. The problem seems to be that there are not many stations  using this mode - yet.
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Lawrence Gray

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It is still being developed.  There are a number of users on 20 and 40.  It you have beacon enabled, this will often result in a QSO.
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Lawrence Gray

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The software is publicly available.  The group is just for sharing and reporting issues to the developer.
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KF4HR

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Well put Gerald.  I have a few other thoughts.

I'm not a fan of FT8, but I certainly do not think the mode will kill the hobby; rather it's just a nitche for some people.  The large migration to this mode seems to indicate that, at least for some hams, making a fast call sign and signal report exchange is more appealing than than actually meeting and talking to other hams. 

And FT8 certainly permits hams to obtain awards faster, but I wonder if making these goals too easy, is actually counter productive?  After FT8'ers all end up with all their awards hanging on their walls, then what?  Personally I like looking at my awards and remembering some of the hams I talked to that made that award possible, and the friends I made in the process.  But hey, that's just me.

I also think FT8 proves we are just a short hop to fully automatic QSO's, where no operator is actually needed at all.  But we have self-driving cars now, so why not self-filling logbooks? 

Thankfully we have many modes to choose from.  Each to their own.


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Digital Ham

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Gerald, thanks for that excellent description of the best code to hit the airwaves.  If you don't like FT8 then don't use it, stick to the modes that suit and thrill you and enjoy the hobby as you always have.  It does no good to grumble about how the hobby is changing, in my opinion, advancing.  I have been licensed since 1961 and I haven't had this much fun in all that time.  I working on worked all everything with FT8 and when the sunspots come back I will do the same in some other mode..

Warren Gaspar
KC0GU
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NX6D Dave

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In the new issue of QST, there is an article encouraging us to use Olivia.  Fine idea.  Olivia has excellent error correction allowing messages to be reasonably well decoded at the receiver.  Then the author says a few things about RSID and Olivia, and encourages us to use RSID.

This, in my opinion, is part of the reason for the success of FT8.  Like Olivia, messages in FT8 either decode or not.  But FT8 is easily recognizable on the screen and comes in only one form, unlike the plethora of Olivia modes.  FT8 emphasizes call signs more, so you can tell who you are talking to.  Add to that the auxiliary program, JTAlertX, and you can tell at a glance who is calling CQ, whether you have worked them before, do you want to work them now, etc.

It's a powerful combination of parts.  When JTAlertX pops up "Laos" in yellow surrounded by green, as it did for me yesterday, wham!  I'm all over it!  Got it too, but only after some application of some things I've learned the hard way, in other words, some skill.

How do you make Olivia more appealing?

1) Reduce the number of Olivia modes, way down.
2) Make RSID mandatory, i.e., it is always generated when you call CQ.
3) Extend programs like JTAlertX into that realm.  Improve the connectivity between FLDIGI and the various logging programs.

73

Dave / NX6D

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Gary L. Robinson

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I agree mostly Dave but not about reducing the number of ways it can be configured.  Just HIDE all but 5-6 configurations for most people and that will amount to the same thing.  What would be nice is if someone made a stand alone Olivia digital app with only 6-8 configurations available in it.  I would hate to lose all the choices that FLDigi has but it can be overwhelming to many hams.  Just an idea ... :-)

---Gary WB8ROL
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Digital Ham

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Dave I just read that article in QST and was listening to an Olivia QSO when you posted this.  I used Fldigi and tried several different modes but could figure out which one is was.  Then the RSID message came through and I was copying the entire QSO. 

Cool Stuff

Warren
KC0GU
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NX6D Dave

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Yes, when the caller uses RSID.  My experience is that very few do.  I've spent hours messing about with those modes and the experience has been largely frustrating.

FLDIGI doesn't make it easy to try different decoders on an unknown signal.  It could, for instance, look at the signal width, select decoders that might be right, and try them one after another looking for a match.  There's no skill on the operator's part doing that by hand, only drudgery and frustration.  How may times have I sat there and said, "OK, I give up.  I don't know what that is."?  SSB wouldn't be as popular as it is if you had to try both USB and LSB on every SSB signal in the pan.  But then you would also expect Flex to make it easy to quickly try both.

Another point about FT8:  I have about a thousand JT65 and JT9 QSOs in my log.  I worked JT65 exclusively during NPOTA and activated 14 parks.  But those modes didn't take off like FT8, even though FT8 is somewhat less sensitive in decoding weak signals, and JTAlertX applies just as well.  FT8 is faster, simple as that.  Faster appeals to people.

So I think the real lesson that FT8 is teaching right now is about convenience, accuracy, sensitivity and software support.  The DXPedition sub-mode is just getting started.  Version 2 of FT8 supports a much wider range of call sign forms and combinations.  DXPeditions are now beginning to embrace FT8.  Some will say that takes all of the fun out of it.  OK, fair point.  But I like hunting down the rare ones, trying to figure out how to get a signal to them, how to get a signal back, and getting them in the log.  When I'm working a DXPedition in FT8, I can hardly breathe.
(Edited)
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Craig Williams

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Digital Ham. Boring. Need to PTT.
(Edited)
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Douglas Maxwell

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If only PTT worked properly for CW mode!
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Terry K8EET

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Great points, Gerald. JT8 has arrived at the right time. This weekend I had a 9+ noise level on 30 meters right where JT8 should have been.  As it turned out, I worked a steady stream of stations right through the noise. I'm confident JT8 won't kill ham radio. However, I'm still looking forward to getting out of the bottom of the cycle and getting back to the more challenging modes.
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K3SF .

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Spot ON Gerald

I am from the 6L6 era (license in 1962 at 14 years old)
and
Hamradio lead me into a career working as a contractor for various 3 letter agencies. Where my hobby easily converged with my work.

I have seen hamradio thrive thru

ssb vs am
solid state vs tubes
computer rtty vs  machine rtty
no code vs code 
contest vs nets
qrp vs qro
dx nets vs free range dx'ing
rag chew vs hit-run qso's
and
the list goes on and on

and

ham radio still thrives


i have so enjoyed the hobby.
because the hobby is not battle of one vs the other
but
an aggregation of each innovation and mode and technique
always something new to learn
and
that adds to the diversity and growth of a hobby
allowing for a niche for everyone's interest
and
an opportunity to explore them all



Oh by the way i love my 6600M

Paul K3SF

aka KN3VWF, K3VWF
and
KR6IE (IE Shima 1969) , KR6VW( Okinawa 1968-1970)






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Ned K1NJ

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   FT8 is another beginning.  I look forward to what will come next.

                          Ned,  K1NJ
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Neil D Friedman N3DF

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Need to type fast.  Next FT8 cycle on 40M might bring a call I need.
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Brian Morgan VK7RR

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What an interesting set of comments Gerald. Once again you have hit a nerve which has given many thinking hams a chance to express their views. I am an old timer, I think, licensed well over 50 years but I am still keen on new concepts. I still use CW and enjoy it as my primary means of communication. However I am a very keen 6 metre operator. The thrill for me is actually speaking with someone in a new country so when possible I use SSB. Good luck to those who enjoy FT8, but it is not for me.

Brian VK7RR/4
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Burt Fisher

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FT8 exemplifies the direction of ham radio.
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Mike W9OJ

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Good, bad or ugly?
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Just, “different.” Like many other advancements in the art, it is an addition that subtracts nothing. It has added much activity to many bands that otherwise would have been left for dead in previous sunspot lows. That acts as a propagation monitor that has stimulated activity on those bands on other modes as well.
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Bob G W1GLV

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Very well said Gerald. As far as I'm concerned SSB DX is dead until the sunspots return. The prediction for sunspots returning is about 5-6 years from now according to NOAA. If it were not for FT8 and the other digital modes HAM radio would die. 
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W7NGA

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Not for me, and I see little value added to amateur radio because of FT8. Not that amateur radio makes many demands or challenges in these modern times. I was watching a YouTube video describing the operation of the new Icom 7610. After twenty minutes the presenter turned to his computer screen and said 'And since I started this video I have worked 16 new states on FT8'. All without any apparent human interaction or semblance of creativity. Exciting stuff ... not for me.

I've worked eight new states and three new countries on FT8 since typing this ... quite the accomplishment. I did find an outlet for being creative however ... I changed fonts.

Big hobby though ... room for all (unless you try and call CQ on 20-meters on AM).

W7NGA
Seaside, Oregon
(Edited)
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Bill -VA3WTB

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FT8 does have it's place, another mode. But it used to be that Ham radio was seen as an human interaction activity. My how things are changing.
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Bob G W1GLV

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Today it's very difficult to make a contact within the continental US. The propagation is good when you start the contact and fades in the middle of the QSO. Not good. Today there is no such thing as human interaction - smartphones texting very similar to FT8 or any other digital mode.
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Dave - W6OVP

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Yep. I hear they even have it where you can send your voice over the air. Called "Amplitude Modulation" or something like that. That's not for me. Ham radio is all about CW and anything else is dooming the hobby. This voice business will never last. </s>. <g>.
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Gene - K3GC

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Contacts are difficult at minima. so? For me difficult equals greater reward.

I tried FT8 for a while and found it to be stultifyingly boring. Skill and contacts (SSB) are what it is all about for me.  I have 303 entities logged and every one is more challenging than the one before.  I hope to live long enough to get them all.

FT8 is not for me but neither is CW or RTTY .

Ain't it great that there are so many choices for all of us?
(Edited)
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Great blog, Gerald.

I know you didn't want to toot your own horn, but for me, the combination of FT8 and the ease of interfacing it with my Flex6500 with DAX has made it a killer app that helped me finish WAS on 160, 10, 2, & 15 Meters when they were "dead" and DXCC on 80, 12, and other bands that are tough.

I have been a ham since 1974, but I never made many digital contacts before I got the Flex, other than VHF Packet Radio in the 80's & 90's.  But the 6000 series has made it so easy that I couldn't resist.

I think both FT8 and modes like it, and new advancements in SDR's will go hand in hand into Amateur radio's history books.

Ken - NM9P
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Ken - NM9P, Elmer

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Another thing I have found interesting about FT8 is that I can set JTAlert to watch for States that I need on OTHER modes (CW, SSB, etc.)  I can work them on FT8, then send .....CW?.or SSB?.. and move a station off for a CW or SSB contact to fill a band-mode slot on my WAS list, or to another band for the same purpose.  This has resulted in a few nice phone qso's as well.  

I can even set alerts for specific calls for people I would like to chat with and move them off frequency/mode.  

So FT8 has opened doors not only for "semi-automated DX/WAS operations, but has let to other contacts and rag chews as well.

Is FT8 going to replace my other operations?  not a chance.  But it sure has enhanced them, especially when the bands are poor or dead.
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Bill -VA3WTB

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I just spent two hours on the 40 meter band SSB with friends I talk to mostly every day, I have two other groups that I commonly join on 75 meters every evening. And this all happens when the bands are brocken,,that's not to bad!!
Oh and that is talking person to person...
(Edited)
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Craig Williams

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I was on 40 this morning chatting away in my golf cart mobile, remote.
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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I love FT8

I set a goal of 100 countries in a year but did that so quickly that I upped the goal to 200 countries in a year. Hit 198 in 6 months 199, 200 and 201 took the rest of a year- 173 confirmed via LOTW.. (its the 21st Century.. no QSL Cards).

About 150 countries were worked from SOCAL when I was remote in the E.U.. {No I do not care if they officially count for DXCC because I worked them remote from another country - yet another stupid outdated rule}

Thought I was a Hot operator until I saw my neighbor John NA6L with over 300 countries on FT8

The mode is definitely saving ham radio from boredom when no sunspots.
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Gerald - K5SDR, Employee

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Thanks for all the great feedback on my article.  Just worked 7W7GWM in St. Helena on 15m while I was reading email.  ATNO for me.

By the way, this is definitely not a low power mode.  I can hear much better than they can hear me.  I can hear down below -20 but many can't hear me below around -12 or so running 100W and a tri band beam.  I definitely see the value of QRO when you need it on this mode.  Still you can work a lot at 100W.

73,
Gerald
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James Whiteway

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Excellant article. Well thought out. Sadly, many cannot see the need for advancement of the radio art. In spite of the online polls, I seriously doubt that FT8 or any other digital mode, will kill Amateur Radio.
What will kill it is indifference and not caring about improving the hobby. And protecting it, by making sure our government knows the importance of Amateur Radio.
James
WD5GWY
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Mark WS7M

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Nice article Gerald and thank you for writing it.

I started with CW and I still do CW today.  But yes I fire up FT8 at times because it is there and it simply works.  I've worked stations on FT8 I probably could not decode CW fo

I saw the yes/no FT8 survey and wow is that ever poorly written!  I mean the survey starts you out thinking "do you like FT8" so you are likely to hit yes until you read the fine print where it says "is FT8 hurting ham radio?"

While I still love CW, I am open to all modes and even spend time on SSB.  To me, the people that staunchly say how they don't like a certain mode have not opened their minds to the different possibilities.

I have a friend, local ham, who was all about his analog rig.  His kenwood TS 8xx.  He'd personally gone through it, aligned it and used to tell me how he didn't want to have to boot a computer to get on the air and how superior his kenwood receiver was to anything else out there.  (I regularly heard stations he did not even know existed).

Then his friend pressure finally got to him and he bought an Anan 8000.  He has not been the same.  In fact I have a recording I made of him on the air telling another ham how he would never go back to the "old" kenwood way of ham radio.

It just goes to prove that if these guys/gals that hate FT8 gave it a try they might be converts.

I will say however that if you are an analog rig user, doing FT8 is a lot harder.  DAX and Flex make FT8 dirt simple.

Mark - WS7M