FT8 Love/Hate Relationship!

Recently John N0JDS brought up the idea of using FT8 for station-to-station weak signal messaging. I was like “hell yeah” but… FT8 limits free text messages to 13 characters. Honestly, what kind of Station-to-Station messaging could we achieve with such a character limitation!?

Rant start.
This brings up the topic of amateur radio modes designed purely for easily automating and exchange between operators. An exchange with the sole purpose of filling a line in the log book. What the hell happened to the idea of actually communicating between operators? I know there are some really good chat modes like Olivia, fsq, … but none of them with the weak signal capabilities of FT8. For the qrp field operator, FT8 is a godsend! Unfortunately, if you actually want to have a keyboard based discussion with another operator using this mode, it’s a fail!

There’s a disturbing Trend going on these days in the amateur radio community. We have forward progress by magnificent Developers, bringing us better weak signal modes, but at the expense of actually communicating. Why don’t we? I don’t know the answer but perhaps it’s because most amateur radio operators are only interested in adding an additional line in the log book. I really would not have thought the amount of operators who would actually like keyboard to keyboard chat would be in the minority.

You’ve all heard me moaning about the lack of support for Android. By the way, Android is the most energy efficient, and most portable operating system we have in amateur radio today. Yet, It’s completely ignored for portable messagung. Imagine if you were to take a weak signal modes like FT8. Combine FT8 with a cross platform app offering station-to-station messaging. Then provide an open documented interface to add functionality to it. Now combine your Android tablet or smartphone, your 817, kx2, bitx or qrpver rig, and now you’ve opened up Global messaging to low-power field operators, traveling the backcountry out of a backpack. Field operators (thanks to FT8) have effective communications uding3-5 watts, not 50w!

FT8 opens up some enormous possibilities for the weak signal field operator. Imagine a near real time keyboard to keyboard chat with a station halfway around the world. Imagine HFAPRS over FT8, sending your position report via an FT8 igate on HF. The possibilities are endless. Truthfully, I’d be happy with a keyboard to keyboard chat in FT8, but John expanded on his initial idea. John suggested getting past the 13 character limitation by structuring free text messages, like SMS text messages on a mobile phone network. Functionality could be added which breaks apart any message longer than 13 characters, into a multi-part SMS style message. When all parts of the message are received, the message is reassembled and displayed to the receiving operator. Regardless of what mode were using eg. ft8, jt65, jt9, … Johns SMS text message concept could be applied to any weak signal mode with an artificial character limitation. This would allow expanded capabilities for real keyboard to keyboard Communications, as well as empower the weak signal operator out in the field.

The comunity is leaning forward with new ultra-efficient modes to work with. Yet our ability to communicate with these fabulous new modes is artificially restricted. Let’s remind developers that amateur radio is about Communications. First and foremost our goal should be to achieve efficient Communications between stations. Adding another line in a logbook should be secondary!
Rant stop

Julian oh8stn

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  1. Having been involved in emergency communications for almost 4 decades at the public safety level and three decades at the amateur radio level I have yet to see a digital communications format that has been widely used in either sector.

    Getting consensus on ONE format would be like getting everybody to buy off on one religion or one political view point. KABOOM… now I’ve said it. We can’t even get anybody to buy off on one phonetic alphabet. “Never Kiss Gorillas” for **NKA is a perfect example. We’ve all done it and we’ll all continue to do it.

    Public safety is further along on the continuum than amateur folks and probably always will be. The reason is simple, the public safety software folks get paid to design software; the amateur software people not so much. As a paramedic I wanted the suffix of my call sign to be “DNR” for,”Do Not Resuscitate.” But no such luck.

    Before we can design something we need to understand the needs and purpose of the message to be delivered. Public Safety communications need(s) are for just that, the safety of the public. Amateur radio communications needs of the design need to be brought forth to the designer by the end user, not the other way around.

    I’ll stop for now and invite better spoken and smarter people than I.

    Thanks for your time,

    • Hey Joel.
      This post wasn’t about Public Service Emergency Communications. I’m not quite sure what led to that assumption. This post he’s only discussing extending the capabilities of ft8 to include support for longer messages. Just like an SMS message, messages longer than 13 characters will be split apart and sent sequentially. Once all messages in the sequence have been received, the messages are we compiled and shown to the receiving station. We choose ft8 because it’s the best weak signal mode we have at the moment. Even with the low baud rate, it still allows low-power field stations the ability to communicate with one another in a packet like way.

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