FireChat Mesh Networking App Isn't Just for Hong Kong Protesters

By Wayne Rash  |  Posted 2014-10-06 Print this article Print
FireChat 1006B

In a way, FireChat is a little like those chats that once existed between PalmPilot users when they'd message each other using their infrared beaming ability. The big difference is that with FireChat you're part of a mesh network, which means that each device can send and receive messages to every other device as long as there's some path between them. But what's important is that the path doesn't need to include the Internet.

For example, when I signed up for FireChat, I found a group discussion among iPhone users in the U.K. At least one of those users had an Internet connection so that I could join, even if the other users didn't have such a connection.

That ability to support communications with and without the Internet is one thing that sets FireChat apart. But it seems to be part of a theme with apps from Open Garden in general, where the company has created a collection of apps that enable communications using mesh and WiFi for a variety of purposes.

Will FireChat work for your company? To some extent, that depends on your needs and your imagination. I can imagine using it for collaboration on anything from construction sites to oil platforms where there simply is no Internet. Or perhaps you could use it in places where the Internet is available but overloaded, such as during major conferences and trade shows. But it doesn't only need to be about work.

An event that takes the cell network out of the mix, including natural disasters where it seems that the cellular networks are the first thing to go out, is another obvious use. In fact, there are any number of public service uses where FireChat might be critical, including such things as disaster recovery and a search for a missing person in a rural area.

Perhaps most intriguing, however, is Open Garden's foray into the Internet of things (IoT). The company will be releasing a new IoT software development kit that promises to do for Internet devices what it's doing for cell phones, which is to provide a mesh network that allows them to communicate without going to the Internet for everything. Instead, "We've created a new decentralized mobile Internet," Daligault said.

What's really important about FireChat is that its designers looked at cell phones in another way, not as telephones, but as wireless networking devices that could communicate with each other. Give those devices a way to communicate outside of a centralized network and suddenly there's a new world of communications. It's still too soon to know exactly how that new world will sort itself out, but FireChat has opened the door to something really new.



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