Sunday, July 16, 2017

FT8

Have you tried FT8 yet? Man, that is one fast digital mode! Self-completing QSO's make it easier that one might initially think after enabling the mode and just watching a few exchanges take place among the many users of this new mode.



Bas PE4BAS wrote about it a few days ago and I decided to give it a try this morning. Uninstalling the old version of WSJT-X and re-installing 1.8.0 was a two-minute operation with my config files being automatically saved and applied to the new version. I was decoding FT8 signals and making my first QSO within 5 minutes of opening the program.

Whereas JT65 gives you about 12 seconds to respond to a station calling CQ, you only have about two seconds with FT8. Transmission cycles are 15 seconds each and, once a QSO is initiated, the remaining exchanges take place automatically.


LoTW doesn't currently support the mode and if you upload a file containing FT8 QSO's you'll get an error message. You can map FT8 QSO's to generic a "Data" mode and then upload your logs but your QSO partner must do the same thing in order to get a match (QSL). Instructions for doing that are here.

I personally plan to wait until the next version of TQSL is released - it will reportedly support FT8. Those stations mapping their FT8 QSO's to "Data" will not QSL match with future QSO's uploaded as FT8 mode.

I'll be interested to see if this new mode is deemed fast enough to be considered by DXpeditioners. While it is certainly fast for a digital mode, it is no match for the speed of CW or phone. But its SNR capability may make it a worthy consideration for tough paths or for QRP DXpeditioners.

Coupling the efficiency and speed of this mode with the portability of QRP might yield some low-cost DXpeditions of a unique nature where the KX2 and a small laptop or tablet become the tools of the trade. In fact, the FT8 FAQ mentions that a feature to be made available in a future version of FT8 is for FT8 to Auto-respond to the weakest responder to your CQ. Lots of implications in that statement for DXers and QRPers...
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3 comments:

  1. To comment on your last sentence. I would absolutely like to see the auto respond function in all JT modes, or at least a choice to switch it on or off. The feature of responding to the weakest signal would be great again for all modes. However, we now are close to a completely automated QSO. Just like in SIM31, which is absolutely possible in WSJT-X as well. This would be (too) controversial I think. 73, Bas

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    1. Hi Bas - I think it is inevitable that we will eventually see a completely automated QSO digital mode. This auto respond function is a big step in that direction and in operating FT8 I notice that the software recognizes whether or not I get a response when I answer a CQ. If not, the software calls the station again; if I am answered, the next exchange is automatically made.

      The upcoming "respond to the weakest caller" will be very significant I believe. Paths that are normally ignored or little understood will become known in a way that WSPR often makes them known, only with 2-way QSO credit.

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  2. Great mode, fun to operate - I hope LoTW gets it sorted!

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