Why People Hate FT8

Let’s just be real for a moment. A lot of people hate FT8. You all have seen it in social media and on the air. It’s a popular mode, so popular in fact that one report citing Club Log data recently showed that 80% of HF contacts in their tracking nowadays are FT8. This increase has come at the expense of other mode activity, especially CW. What’s worse in the minds of some, is that accomplishments like DXCC which used to take several to many years to reach is being significantly shortened with the use of FT8.

I’ve often thought it’s a fait accompli achieving DXCC, one just needs to sit in a chair long enough.  FT8 has given a means to bypass a lot of that chair-sitting.  I think FT8 just exposed an inconvenient truth that there really wasn’t a whole lot of skill involved in DXCC.  Skill may lessen the amount of time it takes.  FT8 just automated the process and significantly reduced the time needed and totally removed any skill advantage.

FT8 or another similar mode was going to happen sometime.  It’s like the concept of steam engine time.  The idea or theory is that the steam engine would have been invented at probably the same time in history by anyone or several people simultaneously in the world, even if many inventors were isolated and not in contact with each other.  It was just bound to happen at some point given the progression of technology and the availability of materials and know-how to do it.  We all knew (well, those of us with engineering know-how) that a semi-synchronous extremely low baud rate, low signal-to-noise ratio mode would work and be quite robust.  It’s Shannon’s Theorem applied. What is at issue is the way Joe Taylor packaged it.  We could do great things with low baud rate/low S/N modes.  How about a TCP/IP link to a BBS on the moon or an open global resilient messaging network that works on every band in the lowest of the low sunspot cycles? Instead, it was packaged as a low effort point-and-click QSO slot machine, unable to convey anything intelligent.

There are fully automated FT8 stations out there where the operator just clicks a button and the station makes contacts all day. We all know it, we just don’t know the extent of it. This I think is the crux of the problem. FT8 has become something akin to Bitcoin-mining, but it’s QSO-mining, and FT8 with automation which is undoubtedly happening has devolved pursuit of accomplishments into a virtual QSO Battlebots competition.

Personally, I’ve become indifferent to the whole FT8 debate, and frankly anything that involves DXing, DXCC, contesting, or collecting wallpaper. I don’t hate FT8, but I get the discontent about it that is expressed in amateur radio circles. I have always been one to tell others to not be mode bigots, or put down other modes. The FT8 mode itself is not bad technology, or detrimental to amateur radio. The mindless fashion in which it is in use I’m not so sure about.

This article was originally posted on Radio Artisan.


3 thoughts on “Why People Hate FT8

  1. Interesting view on FT8. Although I disagree about the non skill issue. Some skill is needed but it is not the same skill you need for traditional DXing. I’ve tried FT8 automatic robot mode to research propagation on 10m in 2019/2020 and found very interesting paths in the low sunspot cycle when everyone thinks there is nothing to do on 10m. Others use it just to fill their logs. Everyone does their own things within the hobby….

    My related post: https://pe4bas.blogspot.com/2021/03/is-ft8-destroying-ham-radio.html

    73, Bas

  2. This is true, and yet, not the whole truth.

    Compare FT8 to JS8Call, which packages the exact same technology into exactly what you describe, “open global resilient messaging network that works on every band in the lowest of the low sunspot cycles.” Does it work? Hell yes. It even has features that can ad-hoc bind it into an actual network, with relaying of messages and everything.

    Is it as popular as FT8? Not even close. Its use seems to be confined primarily to continental US, to boot.

    It is my suspicion that radio amateurs, on average, were never actually interested in talking to other people. FT8 just exposes that, distilling what happens during a typical QSO into the minimal representative bits. It is optimal for what radio amateurs actually want to do, of course they’re going to use it.

  3. It doesn’t take much skill to earn DXCC on SSB if you have the money for a good transceiver, a powerful amp, a big lot, and a directional antenna on a tower. FT8 just made it possible to get DXCC on a tighter budget. I could probably find articles in old issues of QST bemoaning the appliance-operator hams who bought their way to DXCC. The more things change…

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