Despite largely dismal HF conditions, there is no doubt that the recent FT8 digital protocol has made hams more enthusiastic about getting on the air. The mode has caught on so quickly that co-developer Joe Taylor expressed surprise last fall at the rapid uptake of FT8 for making contacts on HF bands. Judging by Logbook of The World (LoTW) data, more than 2.3 million FT8 contacts were uploaded in 1 month — a net gain of 1.2 million contacts on all modes over the same month last year, ARRL Radiosport Manager Norm Fusaro, W3IZ, said. Over the same period, activity in some of the other modes has declined.
“Year-to-date DXCC applications are up by 11% over the same period last year,” Fusaro said. “So far, we have processed 898 Worked All States (WAS) applications — a 72% increase over the same period last year. Of those applications 347 — or 39% — were FT8 endorsements. Application for VUCC are also up by 33% over 2017.”
Fusaro said that while some feel that FT8 is “taking over the world,” subsuming all other modes, that’s not the case. “Activity in the traditional modes of SSB and CW has decreased only slightly, by 10%,” he said. “The real decrease is in RTTY and PSK activity and in the other WSJT-X modes. I believe poor propagation would have cut into SSB and CW activity, regardless of the new mode.” Anecdotal reports support Fusaro’s hard numbers, with wall-to-wall signals surrounding the FT8 watering holes.
Late last year, Denny Berg, WB9MSM, achieved his goal of completing DXCC using FT8. It took him just 4 months.
“I can tell all of you that this mode is spreading like wildfire throughout all the HF bands,” Berg told The Daily DX at the time. He said he was able to work all states on FT8 in about 6 weeks of operating.
Taylor has characterized SSB and CW as “general-purpose modes” that are good for ragchewing, DXing, contesting, disaster communication, and other purposes. On the other hand, he has said, FT8 and the other protocols in the WSJT-X suite are “special-purpose modes,” designed for making reliable, error-free contacts using signals that may be too weak to work using more traditional modes — and sometimes even too far down in the noise even to hear.
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