FT8 Adoption: The New Cool Thing

The new cool digital mode for amateur radio is FT8, made possible by Joe Taylor/K1JT and the WSJT software. At first, FT8 seemed like just the next digital mode to try but it is turning out to have a bigger impact than that. Jeff/KE9V recently posted about the popularity of FT8 here:

FT8 is so far out in front that other digital modes are a foregone conclusion. CW only remains relevant because of its popularity in contests. Even phone, the Holy Grail of wannabe HF operators everywhere, is a nearly forgotten mode compared to FT8.

This reminded me of some of the classic research on adoption of new innovations. What are the factors that cause a new thing to really take off versus languish on the shelf? How do these apply to the quick adoption of FT8?

Diffusion of Innovations

In Diffusion of Innovations, E. M. Rogers lists five factors will influence how quickly a new innovation gets adopted:

Relative Advantage: The degree to which the innovation is superior to ideas it supersedes.

If an innovation is clearly superior to the present way of doing things, people will be more likely to adopt it without too much concern about its usefulness. If it’s not clearly better, people will tend to question whether it is worth the trouble of changing.

Compatibility: The degree to which the innovation is consistent with existing values, past experiences, and the needs of the user.

If an innovation is similar to existing practice and blends in well with user needs and expectations it is more likely to be adopted.  If it requires change on the part of the user or represents an inconsistency with the user’s past experience, it may be rejected.

Complexity:  The degree to which the innovation is relatively difficult to understand and use.

The more complex something is, the more likely people will reject it because “it’s just too much trouble.”  Understandable ideas will tend to be considered more carefully and are more likely to be adopted.

Trialability:  The degree to which an innovation may be tried on a limited basis (in other words, without committing to full-scale, total operational change.)

The easier it is for an individual or organization to try something out without being fully committed, the more likely they will give a new innovation a try.  If the innovation can only be tried with full-scale change and great expense, it will tend to get rejected.

Observability:  The degree to which the results from the use of an innovation are visible and easily communicated to users and other decision-makers.

If the results of an innovation are difficult to measure or see, rejection is more likely.  If the results are clearly visible, then the adopting individual or organization can more easily correlate the results to the innovation.  Generally, a decision-maker wants to be sure that the intended results can be measured, otherwise how can the innovation be evaluated?

Adoption of FT8

It is very clear that FT8 has a strong relative advantage to other modes. Just listen to the many comments from hams like “the band conditions are really bad but I’m still making contacts.” One could argue that FT8 is not that compatible with existing operating habits (think CW or SSB) but the mega-trend of using “sound card modes” is a huge enabler. For some time now, hams have been using the PC platform as a digital signal processing engine, using the sound card to handle the analog-to-digital conversion (and back). Perhaps this traces back to PSK31 as one of the major forces that caused hams to connect their transceivers to their computer. In that sense, FT8 is very compatible with existing sound-card-enabled stations, making it strong on compatibility and trialability. Just load up the WSJT-X software and give it a try. Of course, observability is strong too…now I’m making QSOs when I wasn’t before.

There is a bit of a learning curve with FT8, which could be a barrier to adoption. You need to learn the software and fiddle around with the settings to make it work. But for many hams, this is not a barrier but a fun challenge to take on. Most of us like to try new things, as long as they aren’t too frustrating.

The final point I’ll make is that the popularity of FT8 reinforces my contention that Ham Radio Is Not For Talking. FT8 is all about making a radio contact and does not enable conversations. Sure, most hams like to talk (usually about radios) but when the bands are poor they like making radio contacts via FT8. Making QSOs is king.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think?

73, Bob K0NR

The post FT8 Adoption: The New Cool Thing appeared first on The KØNR Radio Site.

Bob Witte, KØNR, is a regular contributor to AmateurRadio.com and writes from Colorado, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

8 Responses to “FT8 Adoption: The New Cool Thing”

  • Harry K7ZOV:

    FT8 is cool. Todate I have about 4,000 contacts and that is only because I do FT8 a few times a week. It is additive. “One more contact then I will quite” Nope that did not work. “Will check 10 meters and see if it is dead” It’s dead but still logged 10 more.. On a dead band.

    As we enter a deeper and deeper solar minimum, when the next few maximums will be lower and lower, digital modes will rule. FT8, JT65, will be on top for now. People will migrate back to PSK31/63, Olivia and such and I suspect a few newer ones will be coming shortly. I still prefer a more personal contact and still do PSK and Olivia. I still make SSB contacts and rag chew, but when FT8 is decoding -10 to -24 as typical, SSB and CW can not be copied. That is reality and that sucks… That also means that if you are die hard SSB or CW person you are out of luck using your radio. I rather use a mode like FT8 and see how far I can get with limited, near QRP power to QRO power (this is a weak signal mode, NOT low power) and keep my radio functioning until I can make a voice contact.

    Case in point. For about a week now 6 meters has been HOT. Lots and lots of FT8 contact and if you have a spectrum scope and can see past the FT8 portion of the band you might see some other action. This has been happening. CW and SSB signals were popping in and out. Weak but readable. When they both died, guess what? FT8 was still cooking.

    For you die hard hams who think CW and SSB is real ham operating, open your minds and try it. You might actually like it… If not, at least you can watch the FT8 signal strengths. When they start hitting around -5 go make some CW and SSB CQ’s. You might find a big surprise waiting..


  • Stephen Slater G0PQB:

    There are some amateurs with the desire to TALK to other amateurs by using SSB CW AM FM ECHOLINK IRLP. Still I suppose FT8 saves grunting.

  • ve7sl Steve:

    There is no question that FT8 is having a profound influence on our bands with so many migrating from CW and SSB to the narrow digital window. I use JT9 a lot on 630m which is just a longer (1 minute instead of 15 seconds) version of FT8. The longer integration time provides the greater sensitivity needed on this band and will probably continue to be the go-to mode for most 630m weak signal QSOs. I do like JT9 but find the speed of FT8 difficult to get used to! The speed of FT8 pretty much demands that the user use the auto-sequence function as there just isn’t enough time (~1.2 secs?) to pick out a call in a list of responders or to switch messages. This means there is not much for the operator to actually do but sit back and try and absorb what is happening. Both modes remove much of what I enjoy about communicating…exchanging names, actual locations, info about rigs or antennas, or any other topic of mutual interest. These modes, although providing solid legitimate QSO’s are just not very interesting compared with older, slower modes. Perhaps this is the way of the future but it would be nice to see a balance of all three modes … at present, it seems to be very lopsided. I am hopeful that eventually the FT8 craze will slow down and that many will return to the traditional modes once again, but maybe not. In any event, it will be exciting to see what will happen and of course, it’s exciting to see so much on-air activity, no matter what mode it is on.

  • M0hlt:

    I think it’s killing parts of our hobby, all you see is FT8 here and there on the Clusters. Even when the bands (higher) are open!

  • John NV4L:

    I agree with VE7SL FT8 is not a conversational mode and only minimum information is exchanged. As I do all of my QSLs on eQSL.cc I’m going to modify my QSL card to include rig information, antennas etc. If we can’t pass info over the air next best thing may be the Internet.

    Face it we’re stuck with a crappy HF propagation environment for the next few years. Two days ago when I thought that breaking 51 for DXCC was impossible, I worked Belize, Madeira Is. and Malta all withing 30 minutes.

    For talking we’ve still got our repeaters and V/UHF.

  • on6uu:

    How can FT8 be cool ??? It is unpersonal, lacks interaction, I don’t even consider doing it. It is about making contacts, but then without the operator in the need of brains …. ..
    However it is good to investigate on conditions of the bands.

  • Scott N6CIC:

    FT8 has been a huge breakthrough for me in my ham operating. I live in city neighborhood where I am not anxious to disturb my neighbors with obviously visible antennas or using an amp for high power. With FT8 and using an off-center fed dipole hanging from a tree limb at 25 watts I am able to literally work the world. And yes-when the propagation pops up, I will switch to CW or PSK31, because I do enjoy exchanging information with other operators. However with typically nearly dead bands these days FT8 has been a huge source of operating fun. I even find it works on 17 meters, when I hear no SSB or CW signals at all. I will have to monitor 10 meters more often. Thank you Joe Taylor!

  • N6MS1:

    I am curious why Mr. Taylor, or another coder does not come up with a robust comms application which Will provide a good “chat” medium for extreme band conditions. We could then have real qso’s, keyboard to keyboard when propo is very bad. This will let us ragchew, and be useful for disaster and logistics comms.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter
News, Opinion, Giveaways & More!

Join over 7,000 subscribers!
We never share your e-mail address.

Also available via RSS feed, Twitter, and Facebook.

Subscribe FREE to AmateurRadio.com's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on AmateurRadio.com!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor

Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: