While I don’t think this is my favorite way to pass the time, I’ve been enjoying trying out different digital modes, including FT8. I’ve posted about it before, when I was just listening in, now that I’ve got a general class license, I’ve been responding and making a few contacts (QSO’s).
One main thing I found with digital modes is that you have to make sure you are using the latest and greatest version of the program. I talked about this a bit before, so I wont go over all the details again, but keep in mind that your Linux distribution’s repository probably doesn’t have the latest version of the program you want to use. This makes sense, since the distribution is looking for stability, not leading edge in most cases.
That said, FT-8 is a bit boring to “do”, but the results of seeing how far you can transmit are pretty interesting. Of course that will change based on the time of day, the solar activity, etc., but it is still a cool way to figure out where your antenna can “reach”. As for me, the furthest I’ve gotten was South Korea, which is about 3700 miles or 5900 kilometers. Not a record by any means, but not bad for a hobbyist!
Editors Note: Since writing this post, my to date record was 7810 miles with JS8Call.
From my understanding, the mode works by setting your radio to the frequency required, such as 14.074 MHz. Then, within that frequency (upper side band) you have a 3000 Hz window of sound. Using the program, you select a 50 Hz segment of that sound band and transmit your digital signal. The digital signal is comprised by dividing that 50 Hz band into 8 notes of 6.5 Hz each with your sound card producing the “notes”. So when you transmit, your program and sound card “play” your little “song” to make the digital data available to other listeners.
Within the program, you click on these “blocks” of little 50 Hz notes/data, and your readout prints what they say, which the program can read and respond to. Since your sound card hears all the sound at once, you can actually see all traffic at the same time as “band activity” and the selected portion becomes “RX frequency” (received activity).
The only downside I see to FT8 is that it is limited to 13 characters. That’s not a lot of information. However, over a 90 second period, you can call CQ, get a response, trade signal strengths and location, and then have time for a good old fashioned 73 (Best regards)! But not much by way of actually talking with other people. I think God intends for us to actually communicate with others, not just “connect” digitally.
Hats off to the guys that made this, it is a really cool mode for sending very weak signals very far.
Linux – keep it simple.