Using FT8 On 6m – The Magic Band
(The following blog, originally published last summer, is as relevant as ever. Please pass the link to those that you think may benefit from reading it.)
Today’s blog is directed to those that may be new to 6m or new to using FT8 on 6m. Some of the things discussed will make your experience on the magic band better for you and better for your neigbours.
Unlike using FT8 on the HF bands, 6m presents some different challenges, especially if you operate in a region where there may be a lot of other locals also using the band at the same time.
Although the weak-signal capability of FT8 has made it possible for many smaller stations or those with makeshift antennas to take advantage of the unique propagation 6m has to offer, it also can create problems for other users of the band when used inappropriately. In regions of dense population, even small stations can create very high local signal levels, often making it impossible for their neighbours to hear weak signals. This is not deliberately-caused QRM but arises when some operators operate 'against the flow’ and transmit on the opposite ‘sequence’ to everyone else in their local area.
If you are a new arrival, with a small or makeshift antenna for 6m, it's important to realize that you may not be hearing what others near you (with bigger antennas) are hearing and can easily mess things up when transmitting at the wrong time.
On HF, one can transmit or listen on whatever time sequence they wish. Chosing ‘TX 1st’ or ‘TX 2nd’ is usually determined by who you hear calling CQ or who you wish to work. On 6m however, in a densely-populated region of local operators, chosing to transmit whenever you want to is a luxury that can create big problems for your neighbour who may be trying to hear that weak DX signal while you are transmitting!
These problem will not occur if everybody in the region uses and follows the same transmit-receive periods, so that everyone is listening or everyone is transmitting at the same time ... one or the other. Unfortunately, this ‘ideal’ system falls apart easily when one or more of your neighbours is not using the same sequence as everyone else.
For the past few years, a protocol that seeks to alleviate this problem has become popular and well accepted by those familiar with it. Those new to 6m may not know about it or understand the reasoning behind it.
Above all, I would urge new users of the band, or to the FT8 mode, to first listen carefully for a few minutes, before beginning operation, to determine what the majority of stations in their local region are using for sequencing. If they are using ‘TX 1st’, then your choice of ‘TX 2nd’ will likely cause hearing difficulty for many others, as well as for yourself.
Although there are no strict rules, there is a very successful and well-practiced protocol, and it's that the ‘easternmost’ station transmits on ‘1st’ while the ‘western end’ goes 2nd’. This is why you will hear most eastern stations in the morning hours transmitting ‘2nd’, as they are usually calling or looking for Europeans to their east, who are transmitting ‘1st’. By the same token, you will also hear western stations transmitting on '2nd', who are also looking for Europe to their east, transmitting on ‘1st’.
This sequencing protocol usually reverses later in the day when signals from Asia become a possibility, and all North Americans then become the ‘easternmost’ stations and will transmit on the ‘1st’ sequence ... unlike in the morning. I can easily see how newcomers to the band could become confused, when they hear both sequences being used! The best thing, once again, is to listen carefully first and then ‘go with the flow’.
You can read about the UK's Six Metre Group's initiatives regarding these protocols HERE.
OK... so you’re not interested in EU or Asia? Then it shouldn’t matter to you which sequence that you use and best operating practice would again be to ‘go with the flow’ in consideration of other users.
A few days ago I saw a prime example of exactly what not to do, in too many respects. I made a posting on the ON4KST 6m chat page that VE1SKY in NS (Nova Scotia) was being decoded here, mainly to alert others in my region that European signals might be coming next, as hearing the VE1s in BC is often an indicator that the European path is building.
In less than a minute, an S9+ local began calling ‘CQ NS’ on the exact opposite sequence of all others ... effectively blocking the waterfall and any possible hope of hearing weak EU signals. I’m sorry, but this is just terrible operating procedure, with almost zero chance of success, while showing no consideration for nearby users.
Just like working DX on CW or on phone, the best way, as it always has been, is to ‘listen, listen and then listen some more’. You will work FAR more DX by listening and calling at the right time, than you will by calling CQ.
I also see some local stations everyday, calling endless CQs, often for over 60 minutes straight and often with many replies that go unnoticed. With FT8, one can check ‘work 1st’, go away, and return later to see who they might have ‘worked’. Perhaps this is what these operators are doing, but they should understand that they are also creating non-stop QRM for other users ... those that choose to listen carefully to the band rather than to endlessly CQ. Once again, this is just terrible practice.
You may argue that if nobody called CQ, then there would be no contacts made. There is nothing wrong with a few CQs but CQing for an hour? And don’t worry, there will always be other stations CQing endlessly for you to hear, even if it’s not a great way to operate.
With a little pre-planning for sequencing and consideration for your neighbours, everyone can and should be able to enjoy 6m FT8 with very few problems ... and that is my hope for all of us.
After forty-nine summers of CW and phone on 6m and two summers on FT8, these are some of my initial thoughts on how to best operate for maximum success and consideration for other band-users.
The latter is part of the basic framework upon which amateur radio was originally established, when back in 1914, the ARRL described in their 'Code of Conduct' for amateurs ... "The Amateur is Gentlemanly. He never knowingly uses the air for his own amusement in such a way as to lessen the pleasure of others."
Now, let the magic, and the pleasure, continue!