I recently made my first contact using the new digital mode FT8 (see screenshot above). FT8 was developed by Joe Taylor K1JT and Steve Franke K9AN, and is included in a recent beta version of Joe Taylor's popular WSJT-X weak signal communications software package. FT8 stands for Franke-Taylor design, 8-FSK modulation. In a short time FT8 has become really popular, and the new mode already sees extensive use on HF and 6m.
With a decoding SNR treshhold of -20dB, FT8 is less sensitive than JT9 and JT65. Therefore, for normal use on the HF bands, at this point I don't see many advantages in using FT8 in favour of JT65 or JT9.
Since FT8 is much quicker than JT65 and JT9, I do see real potential and advantages though during for instance 6m or 4m Sporadic E openings, when propagation conditions can change really quickly and completing a QSO quicker than is possible with JT65 or JT9 is desired.
I do also see potential for FT8 to find its way to DXpedition operations. Since it's relatively quick and therefore more suitable for use in DXpedition pile-ups than JT9 or JT65, who knows, DXpeditions might start considering using FT8 beside the traditional DXpedition modes CW, SSB, and RTTY. This means that maybe for the first time in weak signal history, also the serious and big DXpeditions will start thinking of using a weak signal mode on HF (weak signal modes are already used by DXpeditions on VHF/UHF EME), and might give us little-pistol stations a bigger chance to work them!
On the FT8 Digital Mode Experimental Group on Facebook recently the following was announced, confirming that indeed the new mode has caught the attention of big DXpeditions:
The Bouvet DXpedition early next year will be using FT8! According to Ralph K0IR, one of the DXpedition leaders:
Despite at the moment not being my favorite weak signal mode, this is another good reason for me to stick to FT8 for a while, and get some more experience with it. Can FT8 persuade big DXpeditions to finally take the step into 21st century HF communications technology? The future will tell."We will 'work down from RTTY.' RTTY will be our primary digital mode when we can use it. But, we will be prepared to use FT8 on "dead bands" and when RTTY does not get through."Bouvet is number two in the world on the most wanted list. It will also be the most expensive DXpedition in history.
More information on the 3Y0Z Bouvet Island DXpedition can be found on www.bouvetdx.org.