Re: FT8 in contests

James Duffey

Scores, operating strategies, activity, and available stations to work are all geographically dependent in VHF/UHF contests. As Keith stated, the Pack Rats analysis and proposals are very much Northeast centric. We have a different set of issues here, and other parts of the country have different yet issues. It is not one size fits all.

Keith also makes a good point that the casual VHF/UHF contesters have gone to FT8 and abandoned SSB. They probably won’t come back. High rates for the veteran contesters that relied on that are probably gone with them.

Instead of monitoring 50.125 prior to the advent of FT8 and joining in the fray when they heard contest activity, the casual contester now hangs out on FT8 and goes with the flow when there is a contest. There is lots of stuff to work, it is straight forward to work, and the casual op works it. Except that now, the rate is much lower for the serious contester because the FT8 rates are lower and that is all the casual operator operates. The casual contester doesn’t notice the low rate much on FT8 because they didn’t have that great a rate on SSB/CW as a casual operator, spending most of their time in search and pounce mode rather than running. In some (many?) cases the casual contester probably has a higher rate on FT8 than on SSB/CW, particularly if the casual operator mainly searched and pounced on SSB/CW. One consequence of this is that the casual contester has become more competitive with the serious contester. I am not sure that this point has been seen or made clearly by those who are concerned with the impacts of FT8 on VHF/UHF contesting.

I offer no simple solutions. Or difficult ones for that matter. Certainly one thing that would help is if the digital guys would go to FT4, which has a faster rate, and although one is probably not going to get to the 150 or 200 an hour, one can probably double the FT8 rates if the activity is there.

The digital impact is not a new phenomena, but more people have perceived its impact negatively with the widespread adoption of FT8. In the January and September contests, the numbers of 6M multipliers has grown steadily with the introduction of FSK441 and MSK144 over the past 20 years. It has been hard to be competitive on 6M and 2M in the last 10 years or so without the additional multipliers that meteor scatter brings. It is even hard to be competitive on 2M without digital EME capability.

I would take issue with some of the points WA3NUT makes in the PackRats article. For one, I am fairly sure that no casual contester is going to remember and use the band/mode code they suggest for QSYing. It is too convoluted. In the July CQ WW VHF contest AA5PR and I made a decision before the contest to QSY to 2M after working on 6M. This worked well except for the time I forgot to do so. Roving with WSJT is not that much of an equipment impact as they make it out to be, particularly if one is already computer logging and computer controlling the rig. I think it does add some additional time at a grid when 6M is open though, but a QSO is a QSO. With an additional op, one can make up for some of this lost time by operating in motion, which WSJT is interestingly enough well suited for.

One of the problems in gathering and analyzing data is that reporting by modes is not required in the VHF/UHF contests, and the digital modes (not RTTY) have only been recognized as a Cabrillo tag for about 5 years. That makes it hard to draw definitive conclusions from available data.

Keith’s point about participation numbers primarily being a good metric for non-contesters and that veteran contesters look at other things is accurate. But it is hard to argue against more participants making more QSOs in more grids with the digital modes than with the analog modes. The narrowing of winning margins may be alarming to veteran contesters but it does make the casual (average?) contester more competitive.

I am not sure what, if any, rules changes can bring back the high rates that many veteran contesters crave. If rates are important, it is important to note that the casual contester, with a modestly equipped station probably achieves a higher rate with FT8 than they did searching and pouncing. It will be difficult to pry the casual contester away from that.

It is unpleasant to live through these abrupt changes in paradigms, whether it be in contesting or other areas. For an understanding of how science deals with this, I recommend “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” by Thomas Kuhn. What we are seeing is not too different than the changes that occurred when astronomers transitioned from the geocentric to the heliocentric models of the universe, or when classical mechanics transitioned to relativistic mechanics, or when quantum mechanics took over for the desire that atoms behave continuously.

VHF/UHF contesting has forever changed. We need to adapt to those changes. - Duffey KK6MC

On Aug 11, 2021, at 11:44, Bruce Draper <bruceaa5b@...> wrote:

<Cheese Bits August 2021 - FT8 Impact.pdf>

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