Interested in Amateur Radio Digital Mode FT8 Operations?

Discussion in 'Amateur Radio News' started by NW7US, Aug 3, 2021.

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  1. NW7US

    NW7US Premium Subscriber QRZ Page


    Here is a video capture of the reception and transmission of many digital FT8-mode amateur radio high-frequency (HF; Shortwave) communication signals. This video is a front-seat view of the software operation performed at the radio room of amateur radio operator, NW7US, Tomas Hood.

    The software packages demonstrated are installed and operational on a modern personal computer. The computer is connected to an Icom IC-7610 radio transceiver, controlled by the software. While there is no narration in the video, the video provides an opportunity for you to see first-hand how typical FT8 operations are performed. The signals can be heard.


    The frequency used for the FT8 communication in this video is on or about 10.136 MHz, in the 30-Meter shortwave amateur radio allocation (or, band). As can be seen, the 30-Meter band was active at this time of day (0720 UTC, onward--local nighttime).

    In this video you see (and hear) NW7US make two-way contacts, or QSOs, with stations from around the country and the world.

    There are amateur radio operators within the amateur radio community who regard the FT8 digital mode (FT8 stands for "Franke-Taylor design, 8-FSK modulation", and refers to the mode created by Joe Taylor, K1JT and Steve Franke, K9AN) as robotic (as in, automatic, automated, and unattended) computer-to-computer communications, and not 'true' human communications--thus negating the spirit of ham radio. In other words, FT8, in their opinion, is not real amateur radio.

    While they pontificate about supposed automated computer communications, many of those holding this position have not installed and configured the software, nor tried communicating with the FT8 digital mode. They have perhaps formed their anti-FT8 opinion in a vacuum of knowledge. (This writer has other issues with FT8, but not on this point--see below)

    As you carefully and attentively watch the video linked in this article, consider these concepts:

    + What is a QSO? A QSO is defined (as per common knowledge--see below) as the exchange of at least the minimum information needed as set by the requirements of a particular award, or, as is defined by law--for instance, a QSO would have at least an exchange of the legal call sign assigned to the radio station and/or control operator, the location of the station making the transmission, and a signal report of some kind about the signal received from the other transmitter at the other end of the QSO.

    + Is FT8 software completely in control of transmissions, or does it require human interaction? Just how much human involvement is required to make a full FT8 QSO? Does WSJT-X software run all by itself, with no human control? Is WSJT-X a robot, in the sense that it picks a frequency, then initiates or answers a CQ call automatically, or is it just powerful digital-mode software that still requires human control?

    The video was captured from the screen of the PC running the following software packages interacting together as a system:

    + WSJT-X: The primary software featuring the digital mode, FT8. (See below for some background on WSJT-X software.)

    + JTAlert: Provides several audio and visual alert types based on decoded Callsigns within WSJT-X.

    + Log4OM, Version 2: A full-featured logging program, which integrates well with WSJT-X and JTAlert.

    + Win4IcomSuite: A full-featured radio controlling program which can remote control rigs, and provide control through virtual communication port-sharing.

    + Com0Com: The Null-modem emulator allows you to create an unlimited number of virtual COM port pairs and use any pair to connect one COM port based application to another. Each COM port pair provides two COM ports. The output to one port is the input from other port and vice versa.

    As mentioned, above, the radio used for the communication of FT8 at the station, NW7US, is an Icom IC-7610 transceiver. The antenna is an off-center fed dipole that is over 200 feet in total length (end-to-end measurement).

    Some Notes:

    About WSJT-X

    WSJT-X is a computer program used for weak-signal radio communication between amateur radio operators, or used by Shortwave Radio Listeners (SWLers; SWL) interested in monitoring the FT8 digital communications between amateur radio operators. The program was initially written by Joe Taylor, K1JT with Steve Franke, K9AN, but is now open source and is developed by a small team. The digital signal processing techniques in WSJT-X make it substantially easier for amateur radio operators to employ esoteric propagation modes, such as high-speed meteor scatter and moonbounce.

    WSJT-X implements communication protocols or "modes" called FST4, FST4W, FT4, FT8, JT4, JT9, JT65, Q65, MSK144, and WSPR, as well as one called Echo for detecting and measuring your own radio signals reflected from the Moon. These modes were all designed for making reliable, confirmed QSOs under extreme weak-signal conditions. JT4, JT9, and JT65 use nearly identical message structure and source encoding (the efficient compression of standard messages used for minimal QSOs). They use timed 60-second Transmit/Rreceive (T/R) sequences synchronized with UTC (Universal Time, Coordinated). JT4 and JT65 were designed for Earth-Moon-Earth communications (EME, or, moonbounce) on the Very-High Frequency (VHF), Ultra-High Frequency (UHF) and microwave bands. JT9 is optimized for the Medium-Frequency (MF) and High-Frequency (HF) bands. It is about 2 dB more sensitive than JT65 while using less than 10% of the bandwidth. Q65 offers submodes with a wide range of T/R sequence lengths and tone spacings.FT4 and FT8 are operationally similar but use T/R cycles only 7.5 and 15 seconds long, respectively. MSK144 is designed for Meteor Scatter on the VHF bands. These modes offer enhanced message formats with support for nonstandard call signs and some popular contests. (The MSK in MSK144 stands for, Multiple Frequency Shift Keying.)

    FST4 and FST4W are designed particularly for the Low-Frequency (LF) and MF bands. On these bands, their fundamental sensitivities are better than other WSJT-X modes with the same sequence lengths, approaching the theoretical limits for their rates of information throughput. FST4 is optimized for two-way QSOs, while FST4W is for quasi-beacon transmissions of WSPR-style messages. FST4 and FST4W do not require the strict, independent time synchronization and phase locking of modes like EbNaut.

    As described more fully on its own page, WSPR mode implements a protocol designed for probing potential propagation paths with low-power transmissions. WSPR is fully implemented within WSJT-X, including programmable band-hopping.

    What is a QSO?

    Under the title, CONTACTS, at the Sierra Foothills Amateur Radio Club's 2014 Technician Class webpage,, they teach,
    Wikipedia has an entry for QSO, too.

    My Issue With FT8 and WSJT-X

    I have written in the past, on this website, about an issue that came about during the course of the development of the WSJT-X software package. The development team decided to widen the slice of 'default' (pre-programmed) frequencies on which to operate FT8. The issue was how the choice of new frequencies was made, and what choices were implemented in an upcoming software release. Read more about all of this, in these three articles:

    + Land (er, FREQUENCY) Grab (Part 1)

    + One Aspect of Amateur Radio: Good Will Ambassadors to the World

    + In Response — Can’t We All Just Get Along?

    Has this issue been resolved? For now, yes. There appears to be more coordination between interested groups, and the proposed new frequencies were removed from the software defaults in WSJT-X. At least, up to this point, at the time of publishing this article.

    If interested, and if it has not been removed, please participate in the poll that is related to this article:

    KI7WL, G3SEA, N7KO and 4 others like this.
  2. N1IPU

    N1IPU Ham Member QRZ Page

    "While they pontificate about supposed automated computer communications, many of those holding this position have not installed and configured the software, nor tried communicating with the FT8 digital mode. They have perhaps formed their anti-FT8 opinion in a vacuum of knowledge. "

    Glad to know you are all knowing and all seeing.

    I have it installed and As I posted elsewhere in the forums its boring. If making contacts is your only game I guess its perfect but for some of us having a conversation with others is the purpose of ham radio. I use JS8 call and it accomplishes that part of ham radio in I can have a discussion or in an emergency I can send and receive information as needed.

    If wash rinse repeat is the only box in your repertoire by all means use ft8 but don't try to convince the rest of us we are misguided for not being robots. Hope I am not stepping on YOUR vacuum of knowledge. Not really though.
    NN6A, W6MQI, W4QBQ and 11 others like this.
  3. K9GLS

    K9GLS Guest

    Some commentary would have been wonderful. 16:27 of nothing but FT8 bleep bloop. What a waste of time. Bright side I hope I saved other people some time.
    HL5ZEE, W4QBQ, K8PG and 6 others like this.
  4. AE0IT

    AE0IT Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    "If wash rinse repeat is the only box in your repertoire"

    So, you mean like contesting? ;)
    KY4GD, W5MJF, PD0Q and 14 others like this.
  5. KO2Q

    KO2Q Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    We used to call it a "shack". Is that term somehow too offensive or too outdated for today's generation?

    Oh and a big thank you for posting the definition of a QSO; 32 years on the air and I had no idea that's what that meant.

    I didn't read the rest of it or watch the video; I can sit in front of my own screen and kill time no problem.

    Last edited: Aug 4, 2021
    K8PG, WB2YMU, N7KO and 3 others like this.
  6. NW7US

    NW7US Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    ROFL. Usual suspects. Expected, not disappointed.
    KI7WL, WD4ELG, M1WML and 2 others like this.
  7. EI2IP

    EI2IP Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    "Interested in Amateur Radio Digital Mode FT8 Operations?"

    Ah, no thanks..
    VK6APZ, HL5ZEE, W6MQI and 14 others like this.
  8. W4SIJ

    W4SIJ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    Wow! Some of don’t have the vast experience like you do. I’ve been a ham for 18 months and I am willing to bet that someone has even less time then I do and the don’t know what a QSO is. Who cares if it’s called a shack or room as long as long as they are on the radio and having a good time.
    Just wondering what you have done to promote the hobby?
    KF4ZKU, M1WML and KC7ZXY like this.
  9. KA1YBS

    KA1YBS XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    I don't watch these videos, but I will say Log4OM is one heck of a good piece of Windows software. It works almost seamlessly with WSJT-X if you set the listen TCP port correctly (as I am sure most loggers do).

    I have converted most of my paper logs into Log4OM and the LOTW, QRZ, Clublog integration is so good, you forget that it is running!

    DX cluster, real-time propagation maps, rotator control (that part is a bit fiddly), CAT control. All the goodies of a paid piece of kit provides, that these developers only ask a donation for.

    Unfortunately it does not run on *ux flavors including iOS.

    Oh yeah, the weak signal modes are definitely fun and interesting too. :)
    N9DWL, M1WML, VE4MAR and 1 other person like this.
  10. N1IPU

    N1IPU Ham Member QRZ Page

    You decided to label anyone not into FT8 as not even trying it as having a "vacuum of knowledge' Then accuse the "usual suspects" like their opinion is discount because you say it is so.

    I suspect your self importance is a step to far. Not everyone is like you or thinks like you do. If you article did not include an insult you may have gotten some space here. Possibly understanding.
    HL5ZEE, W6MQI, W0HR and 12 others like this.
  11. KO2Q

    KO2Q Platinum Subscriber Platinum Subscriber QRZ Page

    I use our allocated spectrum...QSL?* And yourself?

    *QSL means "Do you acknowledge" or "I acknowledge".
    M1WML likes this.
  12. PU2OZT

    PU2OZT Ham Member QRZ Page

    Interested in Amateur Radio Digital Mode FT8 Operations?

    No, not at all, but thanks to dystopian FT8 that wiped off all previous more clever digital modes, I'm 100% A1A.

    W6MQI, WA1LAD, KF4ZKU and 5 others like this.
  13. N7RD

    N7RD Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    NOT AT ALL Tnx!
    K8PG, M1WML, IW3ILM and 2 others like this.
  14. KG7AV

    KG7AV XML Subscriber QRZ Page

    FT8 / FT4 has its uses, and the WSJT-X software is indeed quite excellent. But I find it hard to shake the impression that it's like instant gratification and ADHD come to ham radio. Fine if I just want to rack up 'contacts' or put a check by a new DX entity. At least with JT65 (kinda miss the broken ice cream truck), I had 45 seconds to look up the other operator's info on QRZ and get some idea as to who I was in contact with, as well as few seconds if I wanted to get creative trying to squeeze something into a 13 character message. JS8Call is good if you want comparable performance and want to have a real conversation. I also find it sad that the advent of FT8 all but eliminated interest in all the other digital modes except for RTTY contests. I still make occasional PSK31 and Contestia contacts, and even a couple in HELL recently. Grateful for the groups like PODXS070 and the FeldHell Club keeping those alive. But when's the last time you saw THROB, Domino, or THOR? Just my opinion, and everyone knows what they say about those.
    WA1LAD, AA5BK, KK4NA and 8 others like this.
  15. W4SIJ

    W4SIJ Premium Subscriber QRZ Page

    I do. You sit in your "shack" and talk about how it "used" to be and how thing are no longer to your liking and f#%k the FCC for making it too easy for just anyone to get a license. "Cause back in my day we had to work to get our ticket." Spend a lot of time on 80 meters late at night? Yeah I acknowledge what you are to our hobby and what you do to advance it.
    KF4ZKU, M1WML and WG5ENE like this.

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