What the Tech? FireChat and MeshNetworking
A look at new technology that allows people to send text messages without wifi or a cell tower.
While much of our lives is spent connected online it is inconceivable that one day we might not be able to communicate the way we do now. Our dependence on cell towers and networks has grown to the point our lives would be in jeopardy if networks were to go down for a long period of time. Imagine what it would be like in a crisis situation where we could not reach our family and friends by cellphone or the internet. Okay, don't imagine it. That's frightening.
New technology is now available to allow people to communicate with smartphones without needing a cell tower. Mesh networks are a big thing now, especially in countries that lack the infrastructure to go online anywhere.
Open Garden, a technology company has created a software-based network called Mesh or peer-to-peer networking. Its first consumer offering is the FireChat app, available for both iPhones and Android devices.
With FireChat, users can communicate with each other without a cell tower. The devices connect with each other using bluetooth technology signals.
Here's how this works:
Let's say you are traveling with family or friends on an airplane. You don't have a cell signal so you're unable to send each other text messages. With the FireChat app, a text message is sent from one device to the other over bluetooth. No network or SIM card required. The signal works up to about 200 feet.
Now, let's say you and some friends are at a large music festival with lots of other people, all using the same cell towers. If you've been at a huge event you may have experienced the frustration of being unable to send a text message because of a network overload.
With the FireChat app, the text messages do not need those towers.
So what happens if you get outside the 200 feet range? Then something really cool happens.
Still over Bluetooth, one device can use other devices with the app so that it virtually bounces from one to the other until it reaches its intended recipient. The message is still private and just between the two of you unless you invite the other people into the conversation.
Peer-to-peer or mesh networking is being heavily implemented in the Philippines where the government conducted an earthquake preparedness initiatives to send emergency alerts to people. Open Garden reports that their tests showed that of people depending on the usual cell towers only 32% received an emergency test warning while 80% of those using the mesh network received the same warning.
I think it's an app that should be on everyone's phone just in case.