FT8: The “Democratization of DXing and DXpeditioning”

UPDATE: After the VK9MA DXpedition I have changed my tune. FT8 surely is the beginning of something very exciting, but when VK9MA kept switching between FT8 and CW I realized just how much better CW is. On paper, using a mode that could work when CW was too hard to “hear” seemed like magic, but because there still was enough back and forth with FT8, what you gain in being able to decode a weak signal – you lose is the back and forth with QSB. FT8 would be better if it could send CW and just do the 599 TU thing.

I enabled PSK Reporter and am enjoying seeing where my signals are being heard and also tracking the FT8 QSO’s I’ve made. In my blogs I used to manually put together maps and reports of stations along a path, and with FT8 – the first digital mode I actually like  (a lot), there are more tools to map and do propagation studies than anything I have ever experienced before. The 3Y0Z path is of most interest these days.

I think the combination of KX3, PX3 and KXPA100 is perfect for FT8. The “fins” on the KXPA100 are awesome, and seem to be perfectly suited for FT8 and continuous mode use. I could even add a tiny fan if need be, but even after hours of FT8 fun, the fins were warm, but not hot. I also could keep the KX3 power way down to just a couple of watts, and didn’t have to waste $100+ dollars on an after market add on heat sink for the KX3. You ctually wouldn’t even need the PX3 . . .

I think the modular design of the KX3 and KXPA100 are perfect for an FT8 DXpedition. In fact, while I’m still overloaded and “wowed” by FT8, here are some thoughts on why FT8 is such a big deal:

  1. DXpeditions can work the world using a laptop, KX3 and KXPA100 – and it all fits in a smallish Pelican case – hand carried on a plane. In fact, the laptop could easily be replaced by an ASUS Tinkerboard for many thousands less cost to the DXpedition. The radio and amplifier also could be MUCH cheaper than what has been the traditional case
  2. Simple verticals or wire antennas can be used. I wouldn’t compromise on antennas though . . .
  3. Since WSJTX logs to ADIF – automatic uploads are easily done using a very simple script
  4. Instead of using satellite, a DXpedition could upload their log in chunks (packets) once a minute using HF point to point
  5. Others have already created log uploading software for Raspberry Pi’s – so your logging “gateway” is the size of a credit card – in keeping with the “small station” ethos
  6. As much as I think DXA was a cool thing – WSJTX in combination with PSK Reporter or other mapping solutions mean anyone can “play along” just like DXA, and without the administrative overhead, and in a more “open source” way
  7. After I make Top of Honor Roll and 160M DXCC, I might get rid of my “full gallon” amplifier for good. Low power and great antennas combined with FT8 are my future – and yes, CW and SSB will always be used here, but I have dreamed of using no more than 100 watts for a very long time. After getting to where I am in DXCC, going the full steam / full gallon / brute force route is very tiring and not interesting at all. Its lost its juice and so FT8 has me thinking of so many possibilities – which is where I was at in 2001 when I started DXing
  8. Younger people with a tight budget can get in on the fun
  9. People who want a “modern day” mode that fits with today’s technology and computing platforms will be interested in this – in a way they would not get on HF if it were still just the old CW, SSB and RTTY modes
  10. People with HOA’s can have a station now. Same goes for those in a managed care facility . . . or an apartment . . . or a dorm . . or a tent
  11. Mike, KJ4Z’s DX-podition is realized and the whole shebang has a tiny foot print

I am convinced that 3Y0Z should dedicate two stations to FT8 – one on 20M and one on 40M. This will pick up many little pistols and relieve the CW, SSB and RTTY operating positions. In fact, I really wish FT8 were fully automated and that 3Y0Z used a couple “robot stations” this way. They get 2 extra operators 24×7 who wouldn’t need to sleep!

I haven’t tried much yet, but also understand that FT8 can be set with WSJTX to look for the weakest signal meaning little pistols will be guaranteed a place at the DXpedition table. This “democratization” of DXing might be the most important aspect of all of this.


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