FT8: Ham Radio V2.0 Personified

Now that I have the Field Strength Meter working as it should, its time to get on FT8, but do it using the Asus Tinkerboard. I will be upping the ante by using the Asus Tinkerboard following Mike, KJ4Z’s instructions:

https://kj4z.wordpress.com/2017/09/17/ft8-on-the-tinker-board/

I’ll also set the KX3 up to be the rig that works with the Tinkerboard. In fact, I’ll set them up at the Maker desk – not the ham radio desk in the shack. Why? Because I think FT8 represents an amateur radio Brave New World.

I have been watching the FT8 action and feel the need to get in on the action – and NOT because of DXCC or chasing new one’s using a new mode, but just for the “advancement of the radio art”. The “convergence” of technologies has me more excited than when I started DXing in 2001. The possibilities are only limited by my imagination. The “staleness” of just waiting for entities that I need DXCC wise is washed away because I now have lots of little projects to work on – both Ham Radio V1.0 and V2.0. One day the Mod Bob (V1) next day the URAT (V2), make a 160M new one contact (V1), the next day the 1979 Field Strength Meter (V1), the next day FT8 and Tinkerboard (V2). So I don’t see any of this as black and white – I see it as a continuum.

Several friends and I have been chatting about FT8 and we have been amazed at how fast its caught on – this is the biggest thing to happen in ham radio in years. It will prove to have been a very serious turning point – even more significant than Remotes. Here is a list of the implications of FT8:

  1. At first, FT8 will seem like SSB did when it supplanted AM – but on steroids. It will feel like its “ruining ham radio” to some, but will end up being that one thing that might just save ham radio. Yes, I am being dramatic and a bit facetious, but there is a thread of truth to this “faux lament” as well. Nothing is ruined – the OOT’s can still do their V1.0 thing, but a whole new world has opened up, and its perfect timing too. Hams need to demonstrate FT8 at Makers Faires! V2.0 is surely here, and I’m very excited
  2. With FT8, you can run low power and have a compromised antenna and be fully in the game. Prior to FT8 – if you didn’t have a “decent” station, you would not be able to play in the big boys (persons) games – like DXCC Honor Roll or other big deal challenges and operating activities. One thing that will always drive ham radio operators is “bragging rights” – this is something to not underestimate.Oh – and you can still do CW and SSB and RTTY whenever you like – hi hi
  3. Because of FT8, you do not have to spend so much money on ham radio. There are already people running inexpensive SDR QRP rigs with inexpensive single board computers and a simple antenna as their entire station. Cost will no longer be a barrier to entry and young people will be able to enter and with the huge advantage that its a technical pursuit that jives with a career move into IT and or electronics and engineering, and this is a repeat of me wanting to become an EE at age 13 but my fathers friend changing my mind to IT when I was 15 or 16 when he plopped an Imsai computer on our kitchen table, and true to “The Graduate” told me that computer programming was the future and to avoid being an EE. I followed his advice and have been the better for it. My fantasy EE job is now my hobby – so I get to do it all any way, and the convergence of Single Board Computers and Electronics projects means things have come full circle. For me – this is THE golden age of ham radio – not whatever I have done in the past
  4. The Maker community will now really have an entry point. In fact, I hope we get inundated by Makers in Ham Radio now. This will be the single most important way to ensure Ham Radio “V2.0” . . .
  5. FT8 kills the reason for anyone to get upset about remotes. In a way, it saves DXCC because it is WAY cheaper to still use something like a KX2 or KX3 and a laptop and simple antenna than to pay for remotes – even if that remote is your own remote station. Heck – I am very interested in using my Smart phone at work to remote into my KX3 and Tinkerboard at home and watch whats going on FT8 wise – so a new world opens up there . . .
  6. 3Y0Z might be your first ATNO where you were only able to work them on FT8 – if conditions tank as we get closer to sunspot minima
  7. DXpeditions could now have a robotic 24×7 operator who never gets tired or has to pee

I understand how some may believe that something like DXCC will never be the same any more because we didn’t all tough it out with any “assists” be it remotes or FT8 making “robot” QSO’s. DXCC may actually be saved by FT8 because when the sunspot cycle is at the bottom – you will miss out on extremely rare entities as I did with 3Y0E and FT5GA. If we had FT8, I might have made those contacts – both at the bottom of the cycle. My 20M Moxon up 30′ would have been enough and with 100 watts or less, where with the “Way its always been done”, I was toast and I missed these. The big problem with this is that having a hobby where you have to wait 20 years is something that while may give you certain bragging rights – for me (who has patience but with limits), the danger in waiting too long is that I would drop out of the hobby all together because it just seemed “boring”. Also – when the Baby Boomers age and go SK – if DXCC doesn’t attract younger hams – then it will reach its shelf life anyway.

From 1977 – 2001 ham radio seemed boring, so there was a precedent in my life where I just dropped out completely. Now – take young people – they do not have the patience I have, and would rather play with Maker boards and radio and DX and whatever and maybe continuously change their station – just because. Socially, FT8 moves the emphasis from sitting there operating like with CW or even SSB, and offers something perfectly suited to young people interested in technology.

This is really a big deal.

2 Comments on “FT8: Ham Radio V2.0 Personified

  1. Maybe a bigger deal than anyone realizes. FT8 just might be the gateway drug for some of these new digital modes. I’ve been using the JT modes for two or three years now, and I’ve never seen anything like the level of interest in FT8. All the more amazing that it’s exploded in just a month or two, with even DXpeditions talking about using it. The biggest hurdle is getting the software downloaded and installed, configured, and then getting accustomed to it. But once that’s done, you’ll automatically get new modes as the authors continue to innovate at a rapid pace. Once the installed base is large enough, we could start seeing protocol revisions and entirely new viable modes on a somewhat regular basis. For a hobby that still nominally venerates the way things were done a hundred years ago, this is a yuuuuuuuge shift.

    I got into the hobby in the early 90s, when it was still definitely in the conventional superheterodyne, SSB and CW era. I loved it then, and I think CW will always have first place in my heart, but I’m also super excited about all the possibilities offered by SDR and the new weak-signal digital modes. If you want to view this hobby as a nostalgia trip, by all means go ahead and enjoy, but those days are now clearly numbered. If the hobby has a long-term future, it’s in the digital arena. I think time is finally catching up with the old tech, and the advantages of the new tech are now becoming too compelling to ignore.

    Like

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