Wednesday, June 13, 2018
Arnie's look at amateur radio's FT8
Radio Havana Cuba
Dxers Unlimited middle of the week edition for Tuesday 12 June 2018
By Arnie Coro radio amateur CO2KK
Yes amigos as always you are most welcome to another edition of Dxers Unlimited, our station's twice weekly radio hobby program... This is the middle of the week program that goes on the air just after the half hour news bulletin. I am Arnaldo, Arnie, Coro radio amateur CO2KK , and here is item one of the show.... the ever popular section of Dxers Unlimited.... ASK ARNIE
The question came from long time ... listener Edward from Vancouver, Canada sent an email telling me of the nice results he has achieved with his 14 meters long version of the TTFD antenna... Edward says reception from 5 to 30 megaHertz is excellent, and he has already tested the antenna for transmitting on the 30 and 20 meters band, making comparative tests with half wave dipoles for both bands. Arnie, he writes, your version of the TTFD using the 800 ohms homebrew terminating resistor and a 9 to one balun feeding into 75 ohms coaxial cable works well on both 30 and 20 meters, and is usable for daytime short range contacts on 40 meters too... Edward added that he picks up our 6100 kilohertz transmission to the Pacific Coast of North America just like a local FM station, something that made our RHC's engineer, Argelio Rodriguez a very happy person indeed.
And now a Dxers Unlimited special report about amateur radio The great FT8 debate: A new automatic linking digital communications mode that goes by the short name of FT8 has become extremely popular on the amateur bands since last year ... As a matter of fact FT8 contacts have made possible never before seen achievements on the short wave amateur bands...
Opinions about the use of the FT8 communications protocol are been published at many amateur radio world wide web sites.... You will soon here what your friend, Arnie Coro, CO2KK thinks about it...but before here is how British radio amateur Mark, callsign M Zero B LF voiced his points of view that I am now quoting here: Mark says in his lengthy essay: I’ve been pondering for a while about whether or not I should add my own opinions to the polemic about FT8, the now year-old digital mode that has taken the ham radio world by storm. A few things recently have convinced me that I should, which I’ll go into a little later in this short essay.
First off, a step back: What is FT8? It’s the latest in a line of digital modes developed by Joe Taylor K1JT, that permit two-way radio contacts to be made with incredibly weak signals, that are often below the noise floor.
Until last year, most of the modes in this family were used for specialised purposes such as EME (bouncing radio signals off the moon) or meteor scatter. This meant that they were adopted by a small subset of radio amateurs for their specific purpose.
About a year ago, FT8 came onto the scene.AND HERE IS THE MAIN DIFFERENCE --- Mark explains that Its main difference over the other modes in the lineage is the speed of an ‘over’: reduced from for example 50 seconds in JT65 to just 15 seconds. This made it much more suitable for generalized use, and very quickly FT8 was adopted for general contacts.
A post by Clublog author Michael G7VJR in January this year shows how exponential the popularity of this mode was in the second-half of 2017; a trend which seems to have continued. I was certainly part of this band-wagon of FT8 fans. I logged my first FT8 contact on 16th July 2017, and to date I’ve made 118 QSOs using the mode from home.
Some people have tried to argue that FT8 isn’t amateur radio. I disagree. For a hobby founded on experimentation, technical challenge and self-training in all forms of communication, FT8 is the very essence of what amateur radio advances should look like. It’s very clever technology with some seriously complex maths behind it, that represents (technically) a significant step forward from what we had before. Si amigos, I will like to read again that part of Mark's posting: listen carefully
Some people have tried to argue that FT8 isn’t amateur radio. I disagree. For a hobby founded on experimentation, technical challenge and self-training in all forms of communication, FT8 is the very essence of what amateur radio advances should look like. It’s very clever technology with some seriously complex maths behind it, that represents (technically) a significant step forward from what we had before.
I also believe that FT8 has its place in our shacks. One of the biggest threats we have to the hobby is that, particularly in sub-urban environments, noise floors can be very high from consumer electronics. Furthermore, in a globalized world, national regulators appear generally impotent to enforce the regulations that are supposed to avoid pollution of the radio spectrum from poorly-designed equipment. This was one of the reasons for my speedy adoption of FT8. Frankly, from my location on the outskirts of Cambridge, I wouldn’t be able to work as far without the support of the weak-signal error correction that’s inherent in the mode.
This is all the more important during solar minimum, which I suspect plays a large part in the quick spread of FT8. For the next few years, the stage of the sunspot cycle means that radio wave propagation will be hard, especially on higher HF bands. Having a mode available which allows low signal-to-noise ratio contacts is certainly a help to communication on those bands, which would otherwise be ‘dead’. And then, here is what I consider to be a very well thought analysis about one essential advantage of using the FT8 digital mode. Mark says: The other fantastic thing about FT8 is that it brings, for the first time, objective signal reports to the hobby. We all know that ’59’ is a nonsense, but in the more ‘manual’ modes, we don’t have anything better.
Using actual, genuine, signal-to-noise measurements for signal reports allows more meaningful comparisons of equipment, antenna performance and propagation research.
Si amigos, yes my friends , oui mes amis... Here is more to add fuel to the controversy about the now extensive and intensive use of the FT8 digital mode as expressed by Mark M0 Bravo Lima Fox....
Mark continues by writing: However, in recent months a few things have happened, which started to quell my enthusiasm for the mode.
First was one day when I was working from home, doing my day-job. Since the computer was on anyway, I left FT8 running, periodically clicking the ‘Log QSO’ button when I saw it on the screen. Operating like this, I managed to make about 25 QSOs during the day without even realising it. None of those contacts were memorable. The computer made them for me, while I worked on other things. Moreover, the nature of the FT8 exchange (the facts that you have only 13 characters per over, and that changing the text of an over from the defaults can confuse the other operator) means that I felt no connection with those people at all.
FINALLY, THERE IS NOW A VERY IMPORTANT POINT OF VIEW ABOUT THE EXTENSIVE WORLDWIDE USE OF THE FT8 MODE...Similarly, the focus in the community on monitoring the main FT8 spot frequency on each band, means that other contacts seem to be being missed. I know lots of people are pouring over the stats to see whether FT8 activity is ‘new’ activity, or to the detriment of other modes.
In an upcoming edition of Dxers Unlimited, I will continue dealing with the controversial FT8 digital communications mode... Now please listen carefully to my preliminary point of view.... As a soon to be 59 years on the air amateur radio operator.... I have learned to give a very high value to the human aspects of our wonderful hobby.... and sincerely , I believe that using FT8 does nothing to promote new friendships among the world's amateur radio operators...machines do not make friends with people !!!!
Amigos , I wrote the first part of the script of this show Sunday morning... while monitoring the 6 meters amateur band searching for possible sporadic E skip signals that could make possible skywave contacts during the ARRL June VHFcontest.... At just twelve noon local time , 16 00 UTC , nothing heard in the form of CW or SSB stations, and , as expected, on 50313 the FT8 parking spot, several signals where picked up by Jose CO2XN who happens to have the best 6 meters station in Havana,
with his 7 elements YAGI antenna...
Your opinions about the use of the FT8 digital mode are most welcome.... send them to inforhc at enet dot cu and also to firstname.lastname@example.org amigos
(Arnie Coro CO2KK)