Monday, December 3, 2018

FT8 Round-up

I was looking forward to this contest with a brand new mode and was on the air as soon as it started. The activity level on all open bands (15-80m) was more than I had anticipated given that the pre-contest chatter seemed limited to those who had upgraded to -rc5. A very significant number of FT8 users had not.

Activity levels on 20m

Up till now, my FT8 operation had been limited to 5-35 watts. I was still thinking of FT8 as a sort-of QRP mode, which is how it was initially presented.

But the contest allowed 100-watts, so that is what I ran. This required the Flex (at 8 watts out) driving the KPA-500 to exactly 100 watts. This saved my Flex from having to run full power at FT8's duty cycle and also reduced the drain on my batteries.

Activity on 80m

FT8 is a power-hungry mode, drawing full current for 30 seconds every minute. The sun shone brightly all day Saturday, putting more power into the batteries than I was using even though the Flex draws 7 amps (91 watts) when transmitting at 8 watts. Late afternoon and overnight, my activity put the batteries only down to 88% at their lowest. Sunday morning and afternoon fixed that with another sunny day.

I didn't work a lot of DX, nor did I try to. Fellow blogger PA0O went into the log, as did a few other Europeans and some JA's. I did work 49 states (missing ND) though.

Software-wise, everything worked well. I was running SmartSDR (for the Flex), WSJT-X-rc5, JTAlert and ACLog with autologging. No hiccups at all.

I have mixed feelings about this mode. While it's fun for making casual QSO's, I doubt I'll use it much for contests or DXing rare stations. Unlike CW, there is little opportunity for skill or strategy. Working a rare DX station amounts to little more than waiting in line for the DX station to click on your callsign, among the many decoded.

This contest seemed more like a video game in that regard. A 4-step process:

  • Click a callsign
  • Let software on both ends do its thing
  • Click another callsign
  • Rinse and repeat

There are people who will be endlessly fascinated by such activity but I don't believe I'll be one of them. Still, I do appreciate the technology behind it and what it may lead to in regard to future modes.


  1. Good evening John, I am wondering when the solar cycle kicks in if the resurrection of SSB and CW will pickup? It's great the digi modes are around as it keeps the bands alive.

    1. Hey Mike,

      Has SSB dropped off too? I hope the solar cycle is the reason - at least then, the decline of CW will be temporary. It's really tough to say how much is due to poor solar condx vs. FT8.

      How's the SunSDR working out or have you not had time yet with your recent move?

      73 - John