What is going to happen to cellular networks on the day of the solar eclipse? If you're with a lot of other eclipse watchers in an area with spotty network coverage to begin with, you may not be able to connect to the internet or to each other.
AT&T and Verizon are rolling out mobile cellular towers (AT&T calls them COWS for 'cellular on wheels') to provide more bandwith coverage in an areas where large crowds are expected.
Overwhelmed networks are expected as people try streaming the event over Facebook Live or uploading photos and videos to Instagram or through email. What if you're in one of those areas and can't connect? What can you do?
A fairly new technology called "mesh networking" is connecting people to one another without an internet connection.
Open Garden, a technology company, has created a software-based network called Mesh or peer-to-peer networking. It's 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.
FireChat is a free app for iOS and Android devices.