FT-8 New digital mode 8-FSK modulation

It’s still in beta testing, but FT8 — the latest digital bauble to capture the imagination of the Amateur Radio community — has been luring away many of those already using the popular JT65 “weak-signal” mode. FT8 is included in a beta release of WSJT-X, version 1.8.0-rc1. Among its biggest advantages is a shorter transmit-receive cycle, meaning quicker contacts. The notes for the “candidate” release say that FT8 offers “sensitivity down to –20 dB on the AWGN channel.” Contacts are four times faster than with JT65 or JT9, and an entire FT8 contact can take place in about 1 minute.

The new mode is named after its developers, Steven Franke, K9AN, and Joe Taylor, K1JT. The numeral designates the mode’s 8-frequency shift keying format. Tones are spaced at 6.25 Hz, and an FT8 signal occupies just 50 Hz. Unlike JT65 or JT9, transmit and receive cycles in FT8 each last about 15 seconds. Like JT65, FT8 requires accurate time synchronization. An auto-sequencing feature offers the option to respond automatically to the first decoded reply to your CQ.

“FT8 is an excellent mode for HF DXing and for situations like multi-hop Es on 6 meters, where deep QSB may make fast and reliable completion of QSOs desirable,” Taylor’s release notes assert.

The beta release came out just days before the July CQ VHF Contest and proved to be a boon to many operators who took advantage of FT8 on 6 meters. In a limited outing for the CQ VHF, Frank Donovan, W3LPL, made 22 FT8 contacts on 6 meters, “during which the FT8 software reported SNRs from my receiver below –10 dB (measured in a 2,500-Hz bandwidth). Some of the 22 QSOs may have been difficult to complete on CW.”

Enthusiasts will have to wait a little longer for Logbook of The World (LoTW) to accept FT8 contacts as FT8 contacts. Because FT8 is still in beta, it has not yet been added to the ADIF tables. Configuring TQSL to automatically map FT8 contacts to “DATA” will enable users to upload FT8 contacts now, and confirmations will be valid for DXCC Digital, VUCC, WAS Digital, and WPX Digital awards. A new TQSL configuration will be released once the new mode has been accepted to ADIF, which could happen within a week.

Important characteristics of FT8:

– T/R sequence length: 15 s
– Message length: 75 bits + 12-bit CRC
– FEC code: LDPC(174,87)
– Modulation: 8-FSK, keying rate = tone spacing = 5.86 Hz
– Waveform: Continuous phase, constant envelope
– Occupied bandwidth: 47 Hz
– Synchronization: three 7×7 Costas arrays (start, middle, end of Tx)
– Transmission duration: 79*2048/12000 = 13.48 s
– Decoding threshold: -20 dB (perhaps -24 dB with AP decoding, TBD)
– Operational behavior: similar to HF usage of JT9, JT65
– Multi-decoder: finds and decodes all FT8 signals in passband
– Auto-sequencing after manual start of QSO

*Comparison with slow modes JT9, JT65, QRA64:* FT8 is a few dB less
sensitive but allows completion of QSOs four times faster. Bandwidth is
greater than JT9, but about 1/4 of JT65A and less than 1/2 QRA64.

*Comparison with fast modes JT9E-H:* FT8 is significantly more
sensitive, has much smaller bandwidth, uses the vertical waterfall, and
offers multi-decoding over the full displayed passband.

*Still to come, not yet implemented:* We plan to implement signal
subtraction, two-pass decoding, and use of “a priori” (already known)
information as it accumulates during a QSO.

Three extra bits are available in the message payload, with uses yet to
be defined. We have in mind special message formats that might be used
in contests, and the like. Your considered suggestions for use of these
bits are very welcome!

K1JT, K9AN, and G4WJS have conducted on-the-air tests of FT8 with
excellent results. We’re now at a stage where tests under a wider range
of conditions are desirable. If you can build WSJT-X from source code
revision r7750 or later, and would like to help, please do so and report
your results to us! Pre-built installation packages will be made
available after further testing is completed.

FT-8 New digital mode 8-FSK modulation

Paul Leicester | MØFOX | Chesterfield UK | IO93HE | Icom IC-7300