Saturday, 13 January 2018

A paradigm shift within the radiohobby

Actually started to write this article at the end of 2017. But things are changing fast in this subject and so is my vision on this all.

Recently I read a couple of articles about the future of hamradio or the radiohobby overall. The article on FaradayRF did catch my eye. I'm interested in the future of our hobby and wrote some articles about it in the past. However it is nice to read other views as well to form your own vision on the future.

I notice there are many in our hobby that are against digital modes like JT65 and FT8 as it would be a computer to computer communication only. I even notice some amateurs that are not willing to confirm a JT65 or FT8 contact as they think everything is just a guess and the real communication is via the internet. Not that I completely disagree, I can emphatize with those people. But on the other hand there is a change going on right now. You can see it on the HF amateurradio bands and probabely also on UHF/VHF. More and more radioamateurs and especially the younger ones switch to digital and experimenting with all kind of software/digimodes/SDR/automation. You can hear it on the bands as there are evenings that I really hear only 2 or 3 stations on SSB and a same number on CW, even when there is propagation. At the same moment when you switch to digital mode the band or at least the digimode segment is crowded.

Personally I am involved in digital modes since the early ninetees of last century. I am one of the younger radioamateurs and partly grown up with computers. Under the influence of another radioamateur I started with packetradio on CB in the early 90s of last century and a little later I had my first experiences with RTTY, PSK31 and even CW with the computer. I like phone contacts but enjoy digimode contacts as well. I was a early user of JT65 and JT9 and some other less known modes. But with the FT8 mode that was introduced last year I have to admit that I make more digimode contacts compared to other digimodes. You have to remember I have limited time for the hobby and when I am in front of the radio I like to make contacts. When I compare that with the time we didn't have digimodes I can tell there were days that I didn't make a single contact in periods of bad propagation. Imagine hours of trying to make a contact and no one that replies to you, that doesn't feel much like a fun hobby! Those days are over now as even with very bad propagation other radioamateurs still see you in the waterfall, even on long distances.

But is FT8 (and JT9/JT65) a real communication mode. Well a post from OH8STN Julian opened my eyes. Julian loves FT8 for the part that it is fast and the ability to transmit a tiny signal over a large distance. But it is limited to 13 characters and actually the only thing you use it for is excanging a report. A so called "logbook filler" nothing more. However the idea is that it could be used for exchanging messages SMS style with software that codes/decodes in packages of 13 characters and use WSJT-X as the basic transmitting/receiving software. That would be a completely different view on communication, not only exchanging reports but short messages like in FSQ, extremely important in emergency situations. And suddenly this experimental programming from KN4CRD Jordan pops up! However there is a minor problem, FT8 depends on exact time keeping. This could be a problem in a emergency situation and/or in the field. When the world is on fire, there is no internet and sats and DCF signals are jammed how do you keep exact timing? In a emergency situation you need a mode that is fast and sensitive but is not depending on time keeping. I think there are other digimodes that are more capable but overall they are slow. Still best of all is CW coding/decoding with your own brain. That's why I still want to learn and practise CW in the near future.

Recently I received some blog comments from Stathis SV5DKL. He wrote he made a FT8 robot to completely automate WSJT-X so QSOs and logging is all done automatically. We exchanged some e-mails in which he wrote he used macro software but not exactly how. Recently he made a video which describes basically what he's doing. It's not really a difficult thing although Stathis is only giving the most basic parts of it. Stathis opninion is that the ARRL never should validate FT8, FT9 and JT65 like digimode contacts for DXCC or other certificates simply because all this can be done without the operator being in the shack. And by publishing this and using his robot he has made a point! However in most countries it is illigal to automatically make QSOs without the operator being in the shack. A while ago I wrote the dutch telecom authorities about the SIM31 software that can make automate contacts and log it as well. The answer was that at least in the Netherlands it is not illigal to use as long as the operator is in the shack (with sight on the radio). So my imaginary brains were thinking about this all. With the upcoming activation of Bouvet island and the known 3Y0Z call and the known FT8 frequencies it should not be that difficult to make a macro that calls 3Y0Z completely automatically as soon as the CQ of them appears in the rest of the QSO would be history.

But what is the fun of that? Besides it's fun to accomplish something like this to prove it can be done there is no fun of making any contact or working new DXCC using a robot. Is making a QSO and working new DXCC all what hamradio is about? No, there are so many subjects and luckely so many different operators. Personally I don't care if I made a QSO with a robot. Actually I think the operators at 3Y0Z should take a look at Stathis his work and automate a 24/7 FT8 station so the operator that would be otherwise involved can be used for other tasks or can take a rest. It could also be that 3Y0Z has a automated FT8 station and we don't know of it? A benefit for the whole DXpedition! But reading the comments on Stathis his work makes me laugh, there are operators that are not willing to validate a robot contact just like there are operators that are not willing to validate a digimode contact like FT/JT modes. If only those operators would know which station is a robot and which one is not!

But seriously, people can't stop the digital progress, not in real live and not in a hobby. It's the future and it will evolve. There is a paradigm shift going on but there are only a few that believe it...


  1. Hallo Bas, ik ben al vrij lang bezig met digi modes en al vrij vroeg (voor een old timer) mee bezig. Veel plezier beleeft met psk31 /63, JT65 en JT9, en SIM31. Maar FT8? Ik heb een bloed hekel aan al die drukte op een klein stukje bandbreedte. De haast en ongeduld op die band. Als het even niet lukt dan haken ze af en laten je gewoon zitten. Ik haat ook pile ups met CW en SSB, die idioterie om een station te werken. Ik voel ook geen thrill als een FT8 station gewerkt heb, wel met QRP CW om iemand uit de ruis op te pikken met een laag vermogen, en die ook rustig de tijd neemt om je signaal er uit te pikken, dat geeft een fijn gevoel. Misschien wordt FT8 leuk als de bandbreedte over een groot deel van de amateur banden gebruikt gaat worden, dat er ruimte is. FT8 is bezit geworden van mensen met groot vermogen en grote antennes. Want hoor Europese stations hier in de buurt waarvan ik het tegen station helemaal niet zie in mijn waterval. Dan moet er gewoon weg meer vermogen en big beams in het spel zijn. Joe Taylor heeft de software daar niet voor bedoeld. Weak Signal communications, maar daar is geen sprake mer van met die FT8 gekte. Ook zijn er die dat laatste uitleggen als iemand met een kilowatt zacht wordt ontvangen is weak signal communicatie. Tja, daar zakt mijn broek van af. Ik had contact met een Amerikaan op Twitter die zei 800 watt te gebruiken met FT8 en was trotst geen splatter de veroorzaken. Ik ben nu bij na 70 jaar en geniet nog van CW en net zoals Dick F8WBD die gewoon alleen op 20 meter werkt met alleen CW en meestal QRP en daar plezier uit put. Die massahysterie op een vierkante centimeter hoeft voor mij echt niet. Maar iedereen moet gewoon doen wat ie leuk vind. Ik ben wel voorstander om meer ruimte te hebben op de amateur banden voor digi modes aangezien de meeste nu toch overgaan op digi modes. Maar dat geprop op 2 KHz bandbreedte, nee... 73 Paul PAØK

    1. Hallo Paul, ik snap hoe je er over denkt. Gelukkig heb je een keuze dus hoef je geen FT8 te doen. Gek genoeg is de mode echt mateloos populair en kun je er leuke contacten mee maken. Jammer is inderdaad het gebruik van hoge vermogens. Maar goed, het is een stukje "vooruitgang" en of Joe Taylor het nou zo bedoeld heeft of niet je kan het niet meer tegenhouden of omdraaien. 73, Bas

  2. Fascinating post, Bas!

    Ham radio has always been about expermienting. Digital is just a continuance. No development is without its problems, though. WSPR is being disrupted by a transmit-only device, and fewer now listen. As a result, the mode becomes less useful unless, like me, you realise you should play your part and listen often.

    FT8 is about quick DX-grabbing for most people, but not in all circumstances; it allows lots of operating on 12m, for example, when otherwise, most would not bother there, or avoid it due to the (wrong) assumed lack of propagation due to solar minimum. And it lets you do some quick operating without settling down with a bottle of whisky for the night.

    The blurred logical edge for me is between things like WSPR and other digimodes. Very few would consider a WSPR 2-way contact as being a valid QSO for any real purpose. It seems the only distinction between this and other modes is the assumed involvement of the human being at some point in the contact. FT8 is only marginally more human in its standard guise than WSPR, as is the case with JT65 and JT9, where all we do is click on a callsign and let it complete the rest on its own.

    Do we ban or otherwise frown on fully automated QSOs? I think we should, somehow. But a consistent, rational way of doing so evades me.

    The development of 'weakest response gets the reply' versions of FT8, said to be in development, are an interesting way forward but, again, probably has little human involvement that can anyway be eliminated altogether.

    As for modes that don't need accurate timing, the likes of OLIVIA and ROS, both excellent yet hardly-used weak signal modes, are already much more capable than time-sensitive modes. They are also very quick in their higher data rate modes.

    1. Thanks for the reply John. If Olivia and ROS have the same sensitivity? Well, I don't know. They have a larger bandwidth and so far I find both modes very power consuming. Have been QSOing with Olivia several times and found my radio glowing hot after a QSO. Something that is not happening with FT8 (but is with JT65 and JT9). Well everything has it's pro and cons.73, Bas

  3. Hi Bas
    I tried FT8 a couple of times and didn't really like it. I used to do a lot of radio work on PSK31 and a couple of times the station I was working stopped using the macros and had a proper keyboard chat. You can't do that on FT8 its too clinical and I think its only one step away from a totally automatic QSO. So I will stick to SSB and also practice my CW more!
    73 Kevin

    1. Hello Kevin, check out the video from KN4CRD! See blogpost above. It might be something you like. FT8 automation is already possible and not a step away. You probabely need to read my blogpost again? To be honest I think the Bouvet DXpedition have full automated FT8 software to work with but they will never tell. 73, Bas

  4. Good morning Bas - this is a very interesting topic that actually has ramifications beyond FT8 and yet, despite the "new ground" that many think we are now on, this is simply a new chapter in a very old story. For decades, new DXers have made use of emerging technologies while old DXers complained about it.

    In the beginning, there was a DXer at his radio - and nothing more. Then came bulletins that let DXers know when and what freqs an upcoming DXpedition would be on. Eventually those bulletins went to RTTY, speeding them up from snail mail. To traditional DXers, this made it "too easy" to achieve DXCC - the newcomers were cheating!

    Then came packet cluster and now the online spotting networks. DXing is easy, no doubt about it. Almost anyone can work DXCC on CW or phone and now the digital modes make it even easier. Automated FT8 (or the next new mode) will make it even easier, continuing a decades-old trend. Those who appreciate the technology behind it will embrace it; those who don't will complain, and then they will go back to using a technology that, to them, doesn't violate the "Don't Make DXing Too Easy" rule. Their use of internet technology is okay; yours of the RF spectrum isn't!

    73 - John AE5X

    1. Thanks for you reply John, you found better words then me to clarify this. It's a interesting progress in our hobby. I have high hopes for our radiohobby in the future but it will be very different from the past. 73, Bas


Thanks for your comment. Bedankt voor je reactie. 73, Bas