VHF SOTA contacts are quick and easy, but unfortunately limited in range.  They require near line-of-sight propagation to chaser locations.  Many peaks are in remote areas, or are line-of-sight to communities with few listening chasers.

High frequency promises greater distances and the ability to activate remote peaks but has its own issues.  Portable HF gear is limited in power.  Antennas are less than optimal, often wires spread on shrubbery or hoisted up a few feet with a fishing pole. SSB is difficult due to these restrictions.  CW is a favorite for SOTA, but learning CW well enough to make reliable contacts can be a challenge.

I’m regularly practicing my CW, but decided to look into FT8 in the meantime.  So far, I’ve come up with the following options:

  1. Laptop connected to my KX2 (“rig”)
  2. Rig audio via USB soundcard, using WSJT-X software
  3. Cheap Microsoft tablet connected to rig audio via USB soundcard, using WSJT-X software
  4. Android (mine, connected to Verizon) connected to rig audio via USB soundcard, using iFTX software
  5. iPhone (unlocked) connected to rig audio via USB soundcard, using iFTX software

1. Bulky, clumsy but works.  I’ve made several FT8 contacts while on a peak.  I hate the idea of carrying my expensive laptop in my backpack.  I still haven’t figured out how to full configure WSJT-X in advance and have it stay configured over reboots.  I want it to say  “CQ SOTA KF6FLJ/p”, use the gridcell of the peak, and use “mycall mypeak 73” for the final message so the other party knows my peak.

2. Lighter, cheaper and if it falls off a cliff I don’t worry about losing precious data.  Unfortunately the tablet interface  is very hard to use in the field, especially on high peaks at mid-day.  Without a keyboard and a mouse, navigating is hard. The popup keyboard is error prone and lacks useful features of full keyboards such as a control key.  My Microsoft Surface tablet has WSJT-X installed – this software is very unforgiving of keyboard errors and the color contrast of the UI makes it unreadable in full sunlight at high elevations.  I found it unusable.

3.  The Android iFTX app works, however the lack of an external microphone connection on my Samsung Galaxy greatly hinders use in the field.  The cell phone must be held against my KX2 to receive FT8.  To use vox with a KX2 requires the KX2 external microphone, meaning when you are on a peak you would have to juggle the KX2 mike along with the Android while trying to conduct a QSO.  Not feasible if you only have two hands. Unusable.

4. A bought an unlocked iPhone for $150 and loaded the iFTX software. Initially it worked well. The iFTX UI is simpler than WSJT-X as it is specifically designed for mobile devices – less cluttered, better color choices, etc.  Unfortunately it ceased working after a few weeks.  I believe the problem is bad time synchronization.  I looked for an iPhone NTP client and found nothing.  Apparently you cell provider is supposed to keep time synchronized.  Unusable until I find a workaround for NTP.

So I am back to my original configuration, a laptop running WSJT-X connected to my HF rig.

iFTX may be found at https://www.hb9zhk.ch/iftx.html and in the Apple app store.