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Survey: FT8 Growing as DX Mode in an Era of Waning Propagation


In the 2018 update of his survey of modes used on the air, Club Log’s Michael Wells, G7VJR, says the number of Club Log users uploading at least one FT8 contact to the site grew from 8,000 in 2017 to 14,200 in 2018. Wells worked with data from Club Log users who, he reports, uploaded 41.3 million contacts in 2018, up by 12% from last year.

“I think that fact is more significant given the ongoing decline of this particular solar cycle, and it’s possible evidence of extra activity from FT8 and newly active amateurs who’d run out of steam on CW and SSB, but are back to try digital modes,” Wells said.

He reports that 13,900 users uploaded at least one CW contact, and 18,000 had at least one phone contact. The total number of active users was just under 22,000 across all modes in 2018, Wells said, who added that number has been dropping each year since 2015.

“When we look at the graph of QSOs, you can deduce that FT8 users must be prolific in terms of the number of QSOs they make when they’re on the air,” Wells said. “Once you start making FT8 QSOs, I get the feeling it’s more likely you’ll be on the bands for longer in a session, as it can be quite addictive working DX in the noise. Having those absolute signal-to-noise figures is compelling.”

In his discussion, Wells reported that operators from some 270 DXCC entities were active on FT8 in 2018. “It’s quite a showing for FT8,” he allowed, pointing out that the figure is close to the computed 287 active DXCC entities. About two-thirds of DXpetitions using Club Log used FT8 while active, and a bit more than 6% of Club Log DXpedition contacts were on FT8 last year.

Wells observed that while it’s likely that more modest stations are logging rare DX, especially in DXpedition mode where FT8 favors weaker signals, its use comes at the expense of speed — or rate.

“With many expeditions to rarer locations being somewhat constrained logistically, and not having the luxury of staying a long time, operating FT8 could be seen as something of a trade-off,” Wells said. “Even so, for pure throughput, it seems expeditions are still getting the numbers from other modes. Expeditioners like to work pileups and amass as many contacts as they can, after all.”

Wells posits that FT8 may be the only way to stay in the hobby for operators living on small lots and confronting stringent zoning regulations. “However, I think we mustn’t romanticize those particular situations too much. A lot of the FT8 on the bands today is just plain old competitive,” he concluded. “It’s generally become a QRO [high-power] mode, and it’s fierce in its ways. SSB and CW CQs are often going unanswered, while a tiny sliver of each band heaves with FT8. This pattern hasn’t relented in 2018. That’s not great news.”




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