[CQ-Contest] Contesting and the FT8 Revolution

Jeff Blaine KeepWalking188 at ac0c.com
Mon Jun 21 01:54:11 EDT 2021

This point that Ted makes - the FUN aspect - is in my opinion why 
FT8/FT4 contesting struggles.

Yes, it's fun to make FT8/FT4 contacts initially.  And the underlying 
technology is about as cool as it possibly gets.  But from a competitive 
standpoint, once the novelty wears off, it pretty quickly becomes 
monotonous because there is no significant operator intervention 
possible to push the rate or the mults higher.

A competitive game (which is really the essence of radiosport, under a 
different term) which is going to drive increased and sustained 
participation must have a method that provides an increased challenge 
and a performance-based reward mechanism which is the payback for the 
increased skill.  Unfortunately in FT8/FT4 the computer (and the mode's 
structure) controls virtually all normal contest skill set, save for 
picking the right band.  I'm generalizing here, but essentially that's 
it.  One can go from an new FT8/FT4 contester --> to an experienced one 
in about an hour or few.  And after that, almost nothing you do with 
respect to operation will significantly affect your results.  The 
variables are limited, with perhaps the band chosen being the most 
significant pick.  Otherwise, it's mostly up to the computer.

Of course that depends on how the contest is setup.  Some formats make 
more sense to me than others.  I've always thought the grid-square based 
mileage method popularized by the RTTY Makrothon and CW/SSB Stew Perry 
contests provided a format that was almost ideal for the FT8/FT4 mode.  
It provides a about as close to an even playing field with respect to 
location as you are going to get in radiosport.  And it's fun to watch 
what grid square pops up with each new caller as that drives a variable 
points count.

Unfortunately, even with a complementary contest format like mentioned 
above, the operator performance reward is absent once you get the hang 
of it, and it's that aspect of the mode that puts an upper limit as to 
the "fun" realizable.


On 6/20/21 5:53 PM, Salvatore ["Ted"] K2QMF wrote:
> FT8 also takes the FUN out of Ham Radio and out of DXing and out of Contesting!!
> Ted  K2QMF
> On 6/20/2021 5:53:05 PM, wa1fcn <wa1fcn at charter.net> wrote:
> GA Ken
>          I have read your post a couple of times. My thoughts......
> You are partly
>          correct.  DXSummit and RBN have certainly changed how we DX.
> There are
>          a couple differences between that and what FT8 did to DXing!
> Did the
>          RBN/DXSummit  stop or curtail any CW/SSB operations?  Do You
> have friends
>          club members ect. who feel/talk bad about RBN ect, probably not.
>              Let me be clear I am not totally against FT8 only the way
> ARRL has integrated
>              it with the DXCC program, and it's effect on RTTY and the
> thought once a
>              new ham gets into FT8 seriously, you can forget about
> him/her putting any real effort
>              into learning CW  or being a proficient SSB operator.  For
> full disclosure every few months
>              I do get on FT8 for a couple weeks.
>                  Back to DXCC with FT8......... What can be done with 50
> watts FT8 can not even
>                  be done with a KW on SSB or CW now.  Do you consider
> those QSL's/QSO's
>                  equal to SSB/CW  efforts ? I do not.
>                              73 OM   BoB WA1FCN
> On 6/20/2021 11:46 AM, ktfrog007 at aol.com wrote:
>> Hi Bob,
>> You wrote:  The ARRL has destroyed the value of DXCC.
>> ===========================================
>> The ARRL hasn't done anything.  Technological change has.
>> The DX clusters and RBN destroyed the value of DXCC.  That happened
>> quite a while back.  Long before FT8 came along.
>> DXers used to be admired for their skills, knowledge and
>> perseverance.  They used to operate by their wits. No longer.  That's
>> what ruined DXCC.
>> Name me a DXer you admire who has started from scratch 15 years ago
>> and has over 300 Current confirmed and hasn't used the clusters or RBN..
>> 73,
>> Ken, AB1J
>> -----Original Message-----
>> From: wa1fcn
>> To: cq-contest at contesting.com
>> Sent: Sun, Jun 20, 2021 12:46 am
>> Subject: Re: [CQ-Contest] Contesting and the FT8 Revolution
>>      GE Kostas
>>          I just wanted you to know you are not the only one to feel bad
>> about DXCC.
>>              In the past couple years a few people have E-Mailed me
>> about their feelings
>>               in regards to DXCC.   The ARRL has destroyed the value of
>> DXCC.  It has taken
>>              me a lifetime (over 50years) to achieve DXCC of 285 on 40
>> meters low power.
>>              They should of separated FT8/FT4 from all other modes in
>> Single band DXCC.
>>              DX with FT8 is fishing in a barrel. Can you imagine the
>> DXCC totals on 12 and 10
>>              meters when the Sunspot cycle improves!  Where is the
>> challenge now?!  There
>>              is none!  I can go on to other FT8 minuses like how it
>> destroyed RTTY, how it has
>>              made some hams lazy and see no need to put any effort into
>> becoming a more
>>              proficient operator in other modes.
>>                  Ok Kostas I will stop now as I am sure I offended
>> enough hams already.
>>                                  73   BoB WA1FCN
>> On 6/19/2021 2:46 PM, Kostas SV1DPI wrote:
>>> Maybe you have right. But I don't feel the same.
>>> ** The small pistol station revolution
>>> Having 1 kw and a 2el quad @10m high, I don't feel a big gun. I had
>>> the chance to be competitive in dxing because I devoted many hours
>>> studying propagation and even more time on the radio. Now there is no
>>> chance for me to make something that others do not. They let their
>>> computer and play 24 hours per day with better antennas and more
>>> power.... So yes small pistols have the chance to work something they
>>> had not but not to be competitive...
>>> ** The station optimization revolution
>>> I have at least one friend who has a long wire and have worked 290
>>> countries the last 3 years, of course in ft8, including pacific, etc.
>>> So why to make his station better? I remember that I put my quad
>>> higher when I lost a dxpedition, I bought an amplifier the next time,
>>> etc... Now there is no chance to loose a dxpedition especially because
>>> almost every dxpedition (let me know it - don't forget that the first
>>> ft8 robot was Greek and I know some of the guys bought it) uses more
>>> than one robots running ft8 all day. And they have not the courage to
>>> say it...
>>> ** The now-casting propagation revolution
>>> In SZ1A we have a skimmer (maybe you know it even it is out of order
>>> the last 3 weeks - we have ordered the damaged parts). We use the
>>> results of the skimmer to make our plans in contests. The first time
>>> we were keeping ft8 qsos as the CW qsos also. This had as a result to
>>> drive us to mistakes in real contesting. While the band seemed to be
>>> open the previous days during specific time, it wasn't finally during
>>> the contest. So we stopped using the FT8 spots and now we keep only
>>> the CW qsos to make our plans.
>>> ** The marginal bands revolution
>>> Yes, ft8 helps a weaker station to have a QSO (I don't think "to be
>>> heard" is the right expression). I am not a 6m fun but I managed to
>>> work 125 entities the last 15 years. Also optimization of antennas,
>>> radios, amplifiers, etc, all these years. Someone using ft8, has
>>> worked these entities the last 2 years in the lower point of solar
>>> cycle using the half length of my boom. But what he will do the next
>>> years... What he will work in high part of solar cycle? And why he
>>> needs to wait for it? Probably he will play cards because I don't
>>> think he will stay in ham radio... If you don't need to improve the
>>> station, the antennas, to study and learn propagation, to learn more,
>>> to increase your knowledge, etc... what will be the interesting part
>>> to keep you in ham radio? I already know someone who stopped to play
>>> radio, never installed his new hexbeam, because he worked WAS on 40m
>>> in a week with a long wire (WAS is far more difficult from DXCC from
>>> Greece), letting his computer to play ever night. Plus another one who
>>> had dxcc with all entities in ft8 but he didn't know the QSO procedure!
>>> In conclusion, I don't care what the others do. I mentioned about
>>> others just to show the results. I have not fun with ft8 and this is
>>> why I don't use it. If you are pleasant with it, do it. I don't care.
>>> I lost my interest for DXing.
>>> I can not understand how someone has fun with ft8 in contesting.
>>> Because the rhythm? Because the nice sound? Because of the pileup? Or
>>> because he has the time to go to the toilet while his computer makes
>>> some QSOs...
>>> By the way I am a digital guy! I gave many new ones to west coast guys
>>> on RTTY from Iran (EP6T) and I have 329 entities on RTTY. I have tried
>>> ft8 and I didn't like it. I abandoned dxcc program while I was HR1, HR
>>> on SSB and CW and had over 2850 entities in challenge because of Ft8
>>> acceptance by ARRL. I am crying over the money I gave to ARRL. After
>>> 25 years in ham radio I continue to play chasing fun in CW/SSB/RTTY
>>> contesting (mainly casual but more serious also sometimes) and I don't
>>> think ft8 could be part of my contesting habits.
>>> 73 Kostas SV1DPI
>>> Στις 19/6/2021 18:24, ο/η José Nunes CT1BOH έγραψε:
>>>> There is a revolution going on – The FT8 revolution! Like other
>>>> revolutions, it is a breakthrough and there is no coming back. But
>>>> unlike
>>>> what many think, FT8 mode is fantastic for amateur radio and of
>>>> course for
>>>> contesting.
>>>> There are several things I can particularly note:
>>>> ** The spotting revolution
>>>>    Because of the default reporting option of FT8 applications, every
>>>> station
>>>> that uses JTDX/WSJT applications is constantly spotting all the
>> stations
>>>> that the decoders hear. Every station becomes a spotting machine of the
>>>> bands (just like a skimmer) while they are on. The result?! 20.8
>> billion
>>>> FT8 spots in 4 years.
>>>> ** The small pistol station revolution
>>>> Considering a 2500 Hz bandwidth and weak-signal/Noise Ratio, SSB can
>>>> go as
>>>> low as +10 dB, CW -15 db and FT8 -21dB. To put it in another way, since
>>>> doubling power results in 3 dB increase in SNR, a 31db difference
>>>> means 1W
>>>> in FT8 versus 1024 watts in SSB.
>>>> A modest station, suddenly, feels like a new world of propagation has
>>>> opened to him and this in return brings more and more people to the
>>>> bands
>>>> because of the fun of working stations and paths not before available.
>>>> There is a virtuous cycle – more spots, more people, more activity,
>> more
>>>> spots, more people, more activity, …
>>>> ** The now-casting propagation revolution
>>>> With such a huge volume of spots, 20.8 billion in 4 years and around 22
>>>> million spots per day [just for your reference last CQWW CW generated
>>>> 6.5M
>>>> spots], propagation prediction is turning into now-casting propagation.
>>>> There is no need for propagation prediction anymore because,
>> knowing the
>>>> propagation pattern from 20 billion spots and getting real
>>>> propagation from
>>>> the 22 million spots per day, real time conditions come from
>> now-casting
>>>> propagation - any circuit can be determined to be open or close.
>>>> You can watch my 2021 Contest University presentation about this
>> subject
>>>> here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-esob7BPtc&t=20340s
>> and/or get the
>>>> slides of the presentation slides here
>> https://www.contestuniversity.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/There-is-Nothing-Magic-About-Propagation-CTU-2021-CT1BOH.pdf
>>>> ** The station optimization revolution
>>>> This is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of FT8 and of great
>>>> interest to contest stations. Because of the spotting revolution and
>>>> because every FT8 station uses exact grid locator, the exact path
>> of the
>>>> circuits can be drawn. A contest station that uses a simple FT8
>>>> skimmer can
>>>> monitor, 24x7, the potential of any antenna set-up, compare different
>>>> antennas configuration (A/B testing using different calls), test
>> antenna
>>>> take-off angles, and adjust this information to available
>> propagation at
>>>> any time, before or during a contest. “22 million spots per day” are
>>>> there
>>>> available to test your station. I believe every station, DX or
>>>> Contest,  should
>>>> use a FT8 Skimmer, like the stand alone Red Pitaya
>>>> https://www.redpitaya.com/ to skim
>> several bands at the same time at
>>>> a very
>>>> low cost, provide now-casting information, check antenna and location
>>>> potential and use that for station optimization. This link takes you
>>>> to a
>>>> visualization of my modest small pistol station (just a simple long
>>>> wire)
>>>> potential on all the bands https://tinyurl.com/e6767we8
>> in the last 24
>>>> hours.
>>>> ** The marginal bands revolution
>>>> 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.
>>>> In any case competitive contesting (SSB and CW) has a lot to gain
>>>> form this
>>>> revolution. Exciting times indeed
>>>> 73 José Nunes
>>>> CONTEST CT1BOH - http://www.qsl.net/ct1boh
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