[CQ-Contest] Contesting and the FT8 Revolution

David Gilbert ab7echo at gmail.com
Sat Jun 19 18:32:45 EDT 2021

I've harped on this before, but it bothers me that everyone constantly 
seems to equate FT8 the mode with WSJT-X the format.  FT8 the mode is an 
astounding application of digital processing to achieve better 
signal-to-noise ratio communications.  Deriding the FT8 mode itself 
makes absolutely zero sense to me given that every modern rig is chock 
full of all kinds of digital processing to enhance SSB and CW to the 
point that it really isn't SSB or CW for significant stretches of the 
signal path.  FT8 is simply much better at that processing (due of 
course to the preprocessing involved) than used by the other modes.

On the other hand, WSJT-X is an arbitrary implementation of the FT8 
protocol that is rigid, restrictive, and fairly boring.  It is entirely 
possible for there to be an implementation of FT8 that operates like 
RTTY with the accompanying flexibility and personal involvement.  I've 
looked at this from several angles and even Joe Taylor has admitted that 
for pure low noise effectiveness being sync'd to 30 second time windows 
is not necessary ... that was done for other reasons.

It would even be completely feasible to convert CW on the transmitting 
end to bursts of FT8, and then on the receiving end convert the FT8 back 
to CW for traditional decoding of the audio by the ears and brain of the 
ham.  The differences would be that the weak signal performance would be 
much better and the received CW ... being computer generated ... would 
be like listening to a code practice oscillator.  Zero QRM, zero static, 
zero noise.  WSJT-X requires that the entire burst of FT8 be received 
and decoded before it can be displayed, but even that could be changed 
to where busted sequences could be forwarded ... i.e., you'd hear the 
partial characters of a busted reception.

If you wanted to listen to a computer generated voice the rough 
equivalent of SSB could even be done as well.

I can think of no reason why a different implementation of an FT8-like 
protocol couldn't give us all the same kind of personal satisfaction 
that CW and RTTY do (and like I said, maybe even SSB). It's really a 
shame ... in my opinion FT8 and similar processing is being strangled by 
a very narrow and unwieldly implementation of it.  The same kind of 
modern digital processing used by FT8 could be applied with different 
numbers of tones, different bit rates, different signal bandwidths, 
different burst lengths, and nonsynchronous transmission to give us a 
better experience than what we get from WSJT-X but still give us the 
same remarkable weak signal performance.  I wish like blazes I knew 
enough software to actually code something like that, but I'm convinced 
there are people out there who do and our hobby would take a giant step 
forward if they did.  I've corresponded directly with Joe Taylor on this 
topic, but he is committed to his current format and has no intention of 
making any basic changes.  Somebody should, though for the betterment of 
the hobby.

Dave   AB7E

On 6/19/2021 1:38 PM, Alan M. Eshleman wrote:
> I also use FT-8 for the same situations that Jim mentions.  It's often the difference between making a QSO and listening to static.  And, yes, a computer did not do many of the things that I needed to be a ham radio operator.
> But for me--at age 77--the most important thing a computer does not do is capture the thrill and joy that I experienced when I first went on he air 62 years ago and which I still experience. The thrill is just not there when I make an FT-8 QSO unless it's some sort of ATNO.
> Enjoy these new digital modes. YMMV.  For me, they don't deliver the emotional satisfaction of CW or phone.  I'll give a pass to RTTY since that mode allows actual discourse.
> 73, Alan, K6SRZ
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Jim Brown <k9yc at audiosystemsgroup.com>
> To: cq-contest at contesting.com
> Sent: Sat, 19 Jun 2021 10:40:25 -0700 (PDT)
> Subject: Re: [CQ-Contest] Contesting and the FT8 Revolution
> On 6/19/2021 8:24 AM, José Nunes CT1BOH wrote:
>> ** The spotting revolution
>> ** The marginal bands revolution
> Yes indeed, the PSKReporter spotting system is an excellent way to study
> propagation. I've used it extensively on 6M for this purpose, AND to
> chase QSOs with stations in grids I want to work.
>> With FT8, marginal bands like 160, 10 and 6 meters become alive like no
>> other. Going deeper into the SNR, “opens” new circuits, brings more
>> activity, confirms these circuits were always there. We are working Japan
>> on 6 meters on a daily basis... Also, there is a move from CW into FT8 on
>> these band. This is a side effect, but it is what it is. If people suddenly
>> find a band open at -21dB that before was close at -15dB, of course they
>> will use the mode that enables those QSOs and will not use the other mode
>> anymore.
> I've been using the modes developed by K1JT and his team extensively for
> nearly ten years, almost exclusively on 160M during the winter to fill
> in EU countries from my QTH near San Francisco, and on 6M to chase grids
> during the summer e-skip season. I'll use FT8 to work expeditions on HF,
> but I have yet to get bitten by the bug to use it during contests.
> My engineering judgement is that FT8 is able to work about 10 dB deeper
> into the noise than CW with great operators on both ends of the QSO. I
> STRONGLY encourage 160M operators to use the newer and even more
> powerful FST4, which provides an additional 4-9 dB advantage, depending
> on the transmission period.
> For those who consider these modes "not real ham radio, computers
> talking to each other," I know no one who can send or decode RTTY using
> only their ears, and the computer did not learn CW, radio and
> electronics, nor did it build my station, including my extensive antenna
> farm over 15 years.
> 73, Jim K9YC
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