I know for a fact that I’m not the only one out there that just isn’t crazy about FT8, but I’ve used it. It’s fine. It’s a digital mode. Sure, it’s great for weak signal, and times where general propagation is in the doldrums, but I don’t see the general appeal – that’s fine if it’s your thing, but it just isn’t mine. With that being said, with the introduction of the FT4 beta, of course I’ll get on! It’s a new mode, feedback is likely appreciated, and… well… it’s new! Reaction? It’s a nice, quick mode, each exchange is right around 6 seconds, so your full QSO is under a minute! I see this being very beneficial, and I’m excited for the full release! Yes, I know I said that I’m not crazy about the mode, I do use it still as there is a TON of activity on it. And in addition to that, I see the increased activity generally that it has produced for the hobby as a whole, and that is a huge plus!
Moving into installing the beta of the software was a breeze, since I was setup for FT8 already the configurations from the prior version of WSJT-X on my computer simply imported to the release installed (as it would if you updated the software. The only issue that I came across was with the frequency configurations… they were non-existent within the application. I happened to stumble upon them in an FT8 Users Facebook group I belong to. This meant that changing frequencies had to be done with… *gasp* a knob on the radio, not just the software! Sure, I could setup rig control for my 7100 or something, but unless I’m working digitally, the computer is often off/in hibernation, and I paper log, and I’ll add to LOTW afterwards. This is actually a running joke in my family and with a local group – I’m one of the youngest, active people in the group, but have a personal aversion to SDR’s like the Flex simply because, well, they don’t have a control head with knobs and buttons, they require a computer to function (yes, I know there is an add-on control head and such, but it’s an add-on! Come on, man!)
Actual exchange of FT4? Well, you’ve used FT8, right? It’s the exact same. CQ with Grid, Signal Report, Received, 73, Done. Quick, to the point, and you’re back to CQ-ing. For a contest, FT4 is drastically going to increase QSO rate. Still not as fast as a voice exchange is going to be, but it’s getting there (FT2 in the future? Does Yaesu have a patent on that name and would they give Joe Taylor a hard time with it?) and I can see this being huge when the band is so-so on 6m, as it still fully embraces the weak signal mode that FT8 is… just faster!
All in all I’ll just say this, that QSO rate is a huge increase from FT8, over twice as fast, and I believe that this is going to be the next big thing with contesting, much the same way FT8 has been, and especially so in the VHF/UHF realm. Whenever the stable release in planned for I’m sure it’s going to take off much the same way it’s predecessor has, and while I’m not crazy about this being such a predominant mode now, I do think that the activity that it has attracted, and the increase that it seems to have sparked in the last year is fantastic. Let’s see what the future holds!