FT8 has taken the ham radio hobby by storm. It’s probably one of the most hated operating modes by many operators. Not that they’re correct in their hate — but it’s just a fact. So…let’s shake things up a little by looking at history of FT8 and why it’s a fantastic mode for new ham radio operators.
History of FT8
FT8 was created by Joe Taylor, K1JT, and Steve Frankie, K9AN. It was designed to be used when openings are short and signals are experiencing significant fading. Joe Taylor is a Harvard-trained Nobel Prize Laureate in astrophysics. He retired from Princeton University in 2006.
WSJT was originally released in 2001 and has undergone several re-writes throughout the years. In 2005, the software was released as open source software with several contributors working on improving WSJT. FT8 was announced as a the newest digital mode in WJST on June of 2017.
FT8 technical specifications
- T/R sequence length: 15 s
- Message length: 75 bits + 12-bit CRC
- FEC code: (174,87) LDPC
- Modulation: 8-FSK, keying rate = tone spacing = 6.25 Hz
- Waveform: Continuous phase, constant envelope
- Occupied bandwidth: 50 Hz
- Synchronization: three 7×7 Costas arrays (start, middle, end of transmission)
- Transmission duration: 79*1920/12000 = 12.64 s
- Decoding threshold: -20 dB (perhaps -24 dB with a priori decoding)
- Operational behavior: similar to HF usage of JT9, JT65
- Multi-decoder: finds and decodes all FT8 signals in passband
- Auto-sequencing after manual start of QSO
Work DX with highly compromised antennas
Not everyone can afford a 3-element yagi at 75’ and a kilowatt. Working other countries with a meager wire antenna is often a dream for new hams. Using FT8 allows decoding signals down to -24db. Those signals aren’t even audible to the human ear. With that kind of software decoding even ham radio operators with indoor wire antenna can log dx stations around the world.
Work more QSOs during solar minimums
Joel Taylor released FT8 at one of the quietest periods in solar activity in recent decades. This contributed to its explosive popularity on the bands. Hams were looking for ways to rack up contacts when conditions were less than stellar. FT8 is a great mode for solar minimums for new hams with entry-level wire antennas.
Learn about radio frequency propagation
New hams have a lot to learn when it comes to propagation. How does propagation change throughout the day? Comparing high-band propagation to low-band propagation. When operating SSB or CW, you experience the changes in propagation. With tools like PSKReporter, new hams can visualize and learn how propagation changes in real-times.
Free of politics and conspiracy theories
New operators can sometimes be surprised to hear the chatter on 7.200 or on a Saturday night of 80M ragchewing. Wild and crazy politics abound or just plenty of expletives. You’ll get none of that on FT8. However, the counterweight to that argument is you’ll learn nothing from your FT8 contacts but your signal report. It’s give and take I suppose.
QSOs are very quick
If you’re trying to fill up your logbook and rack up awards, you won’t find a better mode than FT8. QSOs take around one minute to complete so you can easily average 30-40 QSOs per-hour with minimal effort. While you’re radio and computer are handling the work, you can passively get other things done around the ham shack — like sending out QSL cards!