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FT8 really is reshaping amateur radio

Resistance is futile?!

FT8 really is reshaping amateur radio. Even if all DXpeditions swore not to use FT8 bots (but you know they will), hams are moving to FT8 and related modes in huge numbers. Here are a couple of related items that I ran across yesterday.

The Summer 2019 edition of the Northern California DX Foundation newsletter included the following:

Why use FT8 mode in DXpeditions?

FT8 is rapidly becoming the digital mode of choice for DXpeditions and here are some reasons why:

  • Important for little pistol stations, especially in antenna-challenged HOA or high-noise neighborhoods.
  • No other mode has the capability of working five different calls in parallel in the same sub-band with queuing.
  • Very high rates possible compared to RTTY, which equals more ATNOs in the log.
  • Easier to reach certain parts of the world under poor propagation conditions and weak solar cycles.
  • Excellent mode for challenging bands like 6M and 160M.
  • Still get credit for a digital QSO toward awards, etc.
  • May attract new operators or revitalize older ones.
  • Excellent mode for hearing- or speech-impaired hams.
  • DQRM not a problem.
  • Less stressful for DXpedition operators.
  • Has tremendous remote operation possibilities.

Along the same lines, the ARRL has decided to reactive the Band Planning Committee. A news article yesterday notes:

In an effort to more effectively address HF digital technology issues, ARRL President Rick Roderick, K5UR, has reactivated the ARRL Board of Directors’ HF Band Planning Committee. The six-member panel, chaired by First Vice President Greg Widin, K0GW, will primarily focus on spectrum allocation issues that have gained increased visibility with discussions on accommodating automatically controlled digital stations (ACDS) — many employing Winlink email. The committee will also discuss operating frequencies for FT4, FT8, and other digital modes. Widin says the committee will meet next week to chart its course. Reactivation of the HF Band Planning Committee came out of discussions during the July 2019 ARRL Board meeting.

I really am of two minds on this. As my friend Jeff, KE9V, said on Twitter, “FT8 is an amazing software application that allows your personal computer to experience all the thrills and excitement of global two-way radio communications!” Note that he didn’t say that it allows you to experience the thrill, but rather your computer. He decries the impersonal nature of FT8, and I have to say that I kind of agree with him on this.

On the other hand, to paraphrase an NBA cliche, the band don’t lie. The CW segments, and even the SSB segments, of the HF bands are often quiet or relatively inactive, while the FT8 segment is chock full of signals. I may not find the impersonal digital modes all that exciting myself, but you can’t argue that they’re not popular and possibly deserve a little more bandwidth.

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