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FT8 Takes Over Ham Radio Communications

FT8 takes over

FT8 takes over as the dominant mode for ham radio communications. Just check the data, which also shows declines in voice and CW.

Last week, I wrote about how weak signal communications software is proliferating in ham radio. Originally designed for space communications, these digital modes from Princeton University’s Joe Taylor now dominate the HF bands, as well.

I got to wondering how popular FT8 has become over the past three years. The answer might amaze you.

Online, you will find a popular shared logging service called Club Log, which is used either for direct contact logging or backing up your local log. Around 60,000 hams upload some 2,000 contacts every day. Club Log makes its historical data available, which I downloaded and analyzed to see what modes have been used by hams since 2000.

Shown above, you can see the proportion of contacts made by each major mode, by year, for the past 20 years. In short, FT8 now accounts for more than 50% of logged contacts. And the use of CW and Phone in particular has plummeted over the past three years.

Is the Club Log data truly representative of all hams worldwide? I think it probably comes close, as the service has good representation from America, Europe and Asia.

FT8 Takes Over – But Why?

It’s pretty easy to identify a few reasons why FT8 takes over HF ham communications. Here are some.

Everyone has a computer and internet connections, and the weak signal communications software is compatible with most ham stations. Easy to set up and use.

Digital modes work well during poor HF propagation, much better than voice or even CW. And propagation has certainly been tragically poor. Add to this the challenge most of us face erecting good antennas.

Digital modes also excel in the presence of strong local interference, particularly RFI from household equipment and power supplies. I am often amazed how my receiver can decode FT8 even when the signal is buried my local noise.

Plus, it’s a lot easier to point and click than to master Morse Code.

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