The Fox and Hounds

By   3 February 2018 19:37

Today, I stumbled upon a write-up of Joe Taylor, K1JT about developing a version of FT8, intended to be used by DXpeditions.

In spite of the fact, that I do not favour FT8, especially because it takes out the lower tier of the signal to noise range, I consider this an interesting and valuable development.

Here is the article of DX World, with a link to the document by K1JT:

DX World article

The mode enables simultaneous transmissions of the DX station (The Fox) and can respond to multiple callers. By doing so, the QSO rate can get as high as 600 Q’s per hour.

Joe suggests a number of options that are particularly interesting and would be beneficial to the broad amateur community. Options include rejecting calls from non-targeted continents, SNR ranges, random selections and similar possibilities to improve efficiency and giving more stations a fair chance.

Everyone knows that CW (or even worse: SSB) pile-ups are often very disorderly and some stations seem to be on every continent and have umpteen callsigns and so on. Interference is a real problem, often on the DX frequency.

The proposed options can help to restore order and it is very interesting to see if this will mitigate problems that many DXpeditions encounter. I will be following the fox and hounds developments and cannot wait for the first foxes to appear. Maybe the name should be changed to FH8…

If the overall effectiveness increases and result in better behaviour, this would be a very valuable contribution to the amateur radio community.

Addition 4 February 2018
Whilst searching on the subject, I read an opinion of ON6KE, who claims that the FH8 mode kills CW. I posted a response that follows below and speaks for itself.

ON6KE said:

This will kill the other digital modes and will finish off CW.

To the point and on-topic replies please. For the hate mailers if you feel the urge, honestly I couldn’t care less.

To start with the last sentence, I wonder if that statement is true. If you really do not care, why post this rather offensive message?

About the topic: FT8 is not my favourite mode. It takes out the lower tier of the SNR range and is not really a weak signal mode when compared with JT65, JT9 or QRA64, just to name a few. The auto sequence feature leads to a sort of QSO machine that will get boring over time. It feels like an electric toy that can only be watched. Children play with it for a while but the toy ends up in a corner of the room. In a while, we will see if this comparison holds.

Being active on 60 metres and avid DX’er on that band, I can only say that JT modes (especially JT65 with JTDX) is the ultimate proposition to work DX stations like 3D2AG, 5W1SA and two ZL’s last week. Without it: no chance at all. Remember we are limited to 15 Watts and the high noise level at my QTH is not helping at all.

I was licensed in 1976 (not just learned a bunch of questions, by the way) and seen many developments. Been very active on VHF/UHF/SHF (constructed a narrowband 10 GHz station in 1981 for example) and took on 6 metres in 1988 from the first day we were granted permissions (DXCC #109 in 1992). The latter took a lot of perseverance and I was lucky to have a good QTH at the time. Currently, the noise level is roughly 20 dB higher and very frustrating.

What did not change is the joy of making a contact after weeks of trying, getting out of bed at the strangest times and so on. No mode is taking that joy away from me. Period.

SSB? Fine. CW (is a digital mode…): glad I learnt it and yes I like the mode and participate in the CQWW CW contest, for example. I even participated in the CQWW RTTY contest. Digital, isn’t?

People rarely use horses and carts nowadays. Times change. Accepting changes and explore new opportunities is something that is what amateur radio is about. Otherwise, we still would use equipment from decades back. No development whatsoever. Because amateurs contribute less and less to advancement, justification for our spectrum use is under pressure.

As said, QSO machines are not my cup of tea. But is a function key to repeat a CW call in a pile up much different? There were times that one had to observe the band closely, like I did on 6 for example. No DX cluster, just observe, observe, observe and call CQ. Know when the band could open, check all possible indicators of openings and so on. Nowadays, many operators have DX cluster software that controls transceivers and steers antennas and even enter the callsign from the cluster. How much different is that from an FT8 QSO machine? Hardly copied, but always 599… wow. The dividing line between this and FT8 Fox and Hounds mode is very, very thin.

For me, the Fox and Hounds mode will be very interesting. Especially because it might help to improve sportsmanship. It can give weaker stations a fair chance. It can filter out EU stations that respond to CQ NA or the like. It could help to mitigate a lot of problems that DXpeditions encounter, like interference from idiots that are apparently frustrated. I am sorry to say, but I doubt if I would want to take part in an expedition that is under constant attack on air and off air via the DX cluster etc.

A fairer chance will allow the little hounds to add some entities to their lists. I can imagine that there are those who dislike others to catch up as it might erode their image. Well, it may be time to rethink. Is amateur radio about friendship or competition?

So, instead of early and prejudiced judgements, it may be a better approach to wait and see. It will take some time and possible problems will certainly be addressed by improved software algorithms.

If it results in better etiquette, I would value it. Even if some stations gave up their license.

Best 73 and good DX to all,

Henk PA2S