Making the case for FT8
Ham radio has seen a decline in popularity in recent years, but a new digital mode called FT8 is helping to revive interest in the hobby. FT8 is a fast, effective way to communicate, and it’s perfect for those who are looking for a challenging yet rewarding experience.
What is FT8?
FT8 is a digital communications mode developed by Joe Taylor and Steve Franke. It draws on the technology of "Weak Signal" transmission to offer improved efficiency and faster response times, making it perfect for ham radio operators. The information contained in FT8's 8-bit symbols include, but are not limited to, signal strength, gridsquare and signal-to-noise ratio data. In addition, this protocol can still be used even when there are very weak signals (-20 dB or less) that would normally be subject to noise interference. This helps ensure better communication quality while simultaneously avoiding any unwanted noise pollution.
Older Hams are embracing FT8
FT8 is becoming a popular mode for veteran ham radio operators over the age of 60. It offers a great way for them to stay active, and requires no major investment or complex motor skills. Those who have downsized from bigger stations or were active on CW previously can now still participate without having to worry so much about their senses declining due to age. FT8 is an ideal solution as it's fast and easy to use, meaning that even those who might not have the same fine motor functions and cognitive ability they once had can still enjoy Ham radio without difficulty.
FT8 is a powerful tool for bringing new Hams and young people into the hobby
It is extremely accessible, no matter their experience level, as it has a low threshold for entry and offers quick QSOs for those with busier lives. In addition to its accessibility, FT8 provides a stepping stone to more lengthy digital modes like Contestia, RTTY and PSK31. Furthermore, the mode removes the barrier of access to larger antennas or amplifiers which are helpful but not necessary for making successful contacts. With all these advantages plus being an exciting way to participate in contests, FT8 makes amateur radio enjoyable at any level of skill.
I'm preparing an indepth series of videos and posts on FT8 communications. It'll include guidance on getting started, a deep dive into WSJT-X, JTDX and GridTracker software, plus a look at usage in DXpedition mode (a.k.a. Fox and Hound). Stay tuned for more information soon!
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