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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SV5DKL - Statement Regarding FT8 Amateur Radio Mode

Rhodes, Dodecanese, GR
17th April 2018


as included in WSJT-X Software Suite
by Stathis Maliakis, SV5DKL

Dear all,

Amateur Radio Service is a technical and experimental radio service. On the basis of exploration, innovation and experimentation, WSJT software suite development group, led by Dr. J. Taylor, K1JT, developed several digital modes, most of them requiring accurate time-syncing between two correspondents' computers to operate properly, with minimal exchange information needed for a 2-way QSO to be considered complete. Main purpose of WSJT development group was to provide new modes, destined for Weak Signals work, especially for VHF frequencies and higher. Weak Signals are signals that are, most of the times, inaudible and are discernible by WSJT software, even a couple of dozen decibels below receiver's noise floor.

In mid-2017, WSJT-X freeware software came out with a new, innovative, fast, digital mode called FT8, heavily relying on PC2PC handshake half-duplex communication. FT8 is now widely considered a very good digital mode for experimentation, with regard to the main purpose of the development team.

FT8, due to its speed, performance and ease of operation, quickly attracted masses of hams, particularly on HF bands, and was (and still is!) thoroughly supported by a large number of organizations, such as ARRL, Clublog,, Digital Amateur Radio Clubs, National Amateur Radio Unions, individual hams, etc. 

FT8's initial popularity was such, that just over a month after its appearance, was accepted by ARRL's LoTW and FT8 QSOs began being valid for ARRL's Digital DXCC Award Programme. Nowadays, several other award issuers and contest organizers accept also FT8 QSOs. FT8 and its future forms will be with us for many more years to come. Ham Radio is evolving in parallel to technology and perspectives, along with its operators. 

FT8 operation through WSJT-X software suite already supports almost 100% fully automatic operation, by enabling "Auto Seq" and "Call 1st" options in the main window, for a station that is only calling CQ. An operator is only required to initially start 1st CQ transmission, and at the end of a QSO, just to click once to log the QSO data, and again, to click once more, to re-enable TX, so as to continue with the next CQ call. 

IMHO, this availability tends to make a human operator obsolete. The "human touch" given with these 2 mouse clicks (or taps!) required, had better not been there at all. To me, it's obvious that this "human touch" is there, just to pay respect to US FCC's Part 97 and related regulations, that prohibit leaving an automated digital station operating unattended, under certain provisions. However, this is not the case in all countries' legislation ... 

Ultimately, it was just a matter of time before curiosity, ambition and the joy of experimenting would lead to fully automatic operation, by bypassing these 2 steps.

A number of well-known stations, from Slovenia, New Zealand, Germany, UK, Croatia, had already tampered with the source code of the open-source WSJT-X software project, compiling their own versions, running their FT8 "hambots" 24/7 on HF/VHF bands.
On that same basis of exploration, innovation and experimentation, but with respect to WSJT development group work, I managed to set up a fully automatic, working unattended, FT8 CQing Robot, not altering the original source code in any way, using a 3rd party application that is very powerful with macro commands. It was really so easy !! After having tested it for approx. 5 months, the results were pretty astounding. 13500 FT8 QSOs were made, with no human effort, just with one transceiver, just with 40 Watts out. 153 DXCC countries were worked, 139 already confirmed in eQSL & LoTW. Well, that wasn't fair! Thoughts emerged of someone running multiple hambots to multiple antennas, simultaneously, DXpeditions requiring less operators (so less costs), due to having 24/7 tireless operators in a laptop, accomplishments made with no real effort ...

It was just outraging. And all of those bot QSOs would count as anything for awarding, etc., in particular for one's DXCC Digital.
That is the main reason I've decided to publish a tutorial on how to set up such a FT8 Robot, in order to show it is so easy & doable, challenge others to get it and take it steps ahead, and prove that there really is no need to award performances, such as two computers handshaking. Note that in my tutorial, I never urged anyone not to adhere to their countries laws or regulations, by usage of such system. Also, note that in SV, automated, unmanned stations are perfectly defined  in our Amateur Radio legislation, in definition of "Station", under clause 6.4 

Of course, growing attraction to FT8 required a measurement of one's accomplishments. Absolutely understandable. That should be done on a separate principle, and not mix it up with the rest of non time-synced, digital modes. Or, not do it at all and keep it for experimenting only. IMHO ... 
Here's the link to said tutorial video:

WSJT development group reacted to this, by inserting in WSJT-X development code, between 5. and 7. February 2018 (Sourceforge commits #r8457 to #r8468), a blacklist statement for my personal callsign (SV5DKL), which if released, would prevent me (and only me!) from using FT8 DXpedition mode. Here are the links:


An official response to why & how this occurred derived from Dr. Joe Taylor, K1JT, himself, through Sourceforge's WSJT mailing list: 

What I realized out of this is that the distance from social behavior to anti-social behavior is just 2 mouse clicks (or taps!) away ...

Having given some thought about how this issue has evolved and given the following facts:

1.      FT8 is currently the most popular amateur radio mode worldwide 
2.      WSJT development group, led by K1JT, is putting some serious efforts and resources in WSJT-X freeware, open-source project
3.      I can never have a fair confrontation with a Nobel laureate scientist
4.      I am considered a "menace" for FT8, by the development group
5.      ARRL has already issued too many award credits for FT8 QSOs, for their DXCC Digital Award Programme

I   H A V E   D E C I D E D

1.      There will be no more public challenging of WSJT-X developers from my side, regarding FT8

2.      My tutorial video on how to set up your FT8 Robot will remain on Youtube under public access
3.      There will be no further posting or criticism regarding FT8 performance from my side
4.      I will continue to work silently towards further AI automation procedures in FT8 operation, in particular with DXpedition mode
5.      SV5DKL FT8 Robot will continue roaming HF/50 Mhz bands. Whenever you work it, rest assured it's a Robot
6.      I will provide whatever technical help I can to any DXpedition that may wish to have a fully automated FT8 DXpedition mode FoxBot (or more)
7.      No further assistance will be given to individual hams who want to set up a FT8 Robot. The tutorial video is a very straightforward guide to start with it
8.      WSJT-X source code will never be altered during my experimentation


With compliments,
Stathis Maliakis, SV5DKL
Electrical Engineer
QM, MSc. (2020)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I support your work and your hypothesis.

Keith / N6ORS