The FT8 digital mode is the latest in a series of weak signal applications for amateur radio. When FT8, jointly developed by Joe Taylor and Steve Franke (K9AN), was announced it was described as being designed for, “multi-hop Es where signals may be weak and fading, openings may be short, and you want fast completion of reliable, confirmable QSO’s.”
So what makes FT8 your next mode?
So, will FT8 kill ham radio as some have posed? True, it is mostly automated. True, it reduces the skill required to make DX contacts. True, it removes conversation from the QSO the same as is true of most DX chasing contacts on any mode. True, it removes some of the human factor. But does that make it bad for amateur radio’s future? Source: FlexRadio
To get going with FT8 Digital Amateur Radio you’ll need a couple of things.
Each radio will be different in the way it’s set up as you’ll hopefully be able to utilise facilities in the setup menus that you wern’t previously aware of. I own an Icom IC-9100 and this was certainly the case for me. The IC-9100 is a radio which allows computer control. It talks to the PC via USB and passes contol of the rig up and back to the PC, as well as audio. This makes setting FT8 up very simple.
All you need is ONE USB cable between the radio and the computer. Follow the manufacturers instructions for setting up your radio, and make sure it works before installing FT8 software.
A resonably powerful computer with good RF shielding is best for this mode. Also, use short, quality USB cables (or audio cables) to minimise RF issues. I’d be using some ferrite rings in the cables if you have a few in the junkbox. The hard work will be done in your soundcard if you don’t have the ability to use USB audio. Laptop or desktop, the choice is what works in the shack or portable.
There are at least 2 programs for FT8 that I’m aware of at the time of writing. There’s WSJT-X available from Princeton University, and there’s JTDX. Both work well, so check out which has the features that works for you. Logging, comms abilities etc. I us WSJT-X as it meets my needs. The both look and behave in a very similar fashion.
Your rig will transmit for exactly 15 seconds starting at 00 or 30 seconds (even) or 15 or 45 seconds (odd). If it doesn’t TX or RX at the right time, you’ll overlap the TX/RX window and the result is annoying to stations close by, and you’ll probably miss out on contacts.
A clue to time…. Listen to the cocophany of transmissions on the FT8 frequency. They’ll be right. Look at the waterfall on WSJT-X. If they overlap the green horizontal 15 second line, then CHECK your PC time.
Below is a video by the author which will also give you an idea of what it can do.