The age of open internet, net neutrality and internet tariff wars have fuelled our imaginations towards envisioning a world where the internet does not matter and we can communicate with each other regardless. This utopian vision is about to become a large scale reality!
A technology called mesh networks allows smartphones to connect with each other via bluetooth and peer-to-peer wi-fi thus creating a mini internet. The network is strengthened when more users are connected. Thus they are also known as self-healing networks. ET reported that a number of Indian firms like AirJaldi Networks and Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) are providing internet connectivity in rural areas using this technology.
Firechat is a messaging app that works on the same premise and was developed by US-based startup Open Garden Technologies, a pioneer in this technology. The usefulness of Firechat was witnessed in Kashmir in March when the state was once again inundated by floods and people needed to get in touch with emergency services and their families.
— firechat (@Firechatapp) April 14, 2015
This is the future of instant messaging without internet connectivity issues. Unlike Snapchat, Facebook messenger and WhatsApp, Firechat allow users to text “off the grid”, without internet access! Users can now chat during concerts, while travelling and in remote regions – all scenarios with the common barriers of internet congestion, lack of cell service or zero connectivity. The mesh network technology has the added advantage of being un-reliant on the internet which is traceable, lacks privacy and can be shut-down arbitrarily by governments.
This video from The Wall Street Journal’s Youtube page which shows Micha Benoliel, CEO of Open Garden demostrate how Firchat is used:
Besides its obvious usefulness during disasters like in Kashmir, Firechat was also used during Hong Kong’s civil disobedience movement – Umbrella Revolution and Taiwanese students during their anti-Beijing Sunflower Movement. Talking about Firechat’s usefulness in these scenarios, Benoliel said “during these days, we saw how Firechat is useful by enabling crowd-sourcing of information at the hyper local level, and instant dissemination at the global level.”
Based on current uses alone, the potential of mesh networking is endless! Rappler.com has arranged an event called Rappler’s #ThinkPH forum in Manila which will feature Firechat’s Marina Azcarate who will discuss the importance of faster, seamless, peer-to-peer communication in developing markets.