How good is FT8?

My answer… Very very good.

FT8 is a fairly new digital mode that many hams are trying out. Is it worthy of the hype? The answer is a resounding – YES! I am testing out FT8 on my Flex 6300 SDR. Without going into all of the details, FT8 is similar to its elder siblings, JT9 and JT65-HF. Stations take “turns” sending and receiving.

The big difference in FT8 is that the turns are only 15 seconds long instead of a minute, meaning that FT8 QSOs run at around four times the speed of the older modes’. The “Even” turns are the ones that start at 00 and 30 past each minute, while the “Odd” turns are the ones starting at 15 or 45 past the minute.

This rigid schedule is one of the mode’s powerful features: It mostly assures that you and the station you are contacting are using opposite time slots instead of transmitting at the same time! (This rigidity also means that you need to set your computer clock carefully: Aim for within 1 second of UTC time from WWV or GPS.)

“Band,” by the way, has a special meaning in FT8. When we think of “Band,” we’re usually talking about, say, the 40M band, or, at least, the CW, data, or voice portions of it. But FT8 is an extremely narrowband mode, around 50 Hz wide. In the case of 40M, you set your radio to the upper sideband (yes, upper, even on 40M and 80M) and tune it to 7074 kHz. After that, you never touch the tuning knob again.

ALL FT8 activity (well, practically) happens in the 3 kHz or so bandwidth of a typical SSB QSO. In other words, a dozen or more FT8 QSOs can easily operate in the space occupied by one SSB signal. The WSJT-X software remembers the normal operating frequencies on 160M through 6M, so you can leave the radio dial set on each band if you like. My tuning knob is getting dusty!

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