(OpenGarden) — FireChat is revolutionary. It changes the way communities keep in touch and get organised. If you are a leader or organizer, get FireChat and start something! FireChat is a free mobile app.
What is FireChat?
“Open Garden may have found the next version of the Internet.” – Financial Times, March 2015
FireChat enables communication among very large groups, in real-time. FireChat has been used all over the world, from Taiwan to Hong Kong, Delhi, Moscow, Paris and Manila. Some people have called FireChat: the “app for crowds.”
Conversations happen in “chatrooms”. You can create a chatroom under the name of your school, organization, project, NGO, event, conference or any topic. Chatrooms scale very quickly: they can gather as many as tens of thousands of people simultaneously. When your phone is connected to the Internet, the chatrooms become the place for live communication between users everywhere in the world: anyone can share messages and pictures with everyone else in real time.
The most special thing about FireChat is that it also works without a data plan and where there is no Internet connection or cellular phone coverage. It even works on a plane or on a cruise ship. When your community physically gets together, it creates its own communication network that’s free and doesn’t rely on traditional networks.
Background of FireChat
FireChat is a proprietary mobile app, developed by Open Garden, which uses wireless mesh networking to enable smartphones to connect via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or Apple’s Multipeer Connectivity Framework without an internet connection by connecting peer-to-peer.
Though it was not designed with the purpose in mind, FireChat has been used as a communication tool in some civil protests
The app was first introduced in March 2014 for iPhones, followed on April 3 by a version for Android devices.
In July 2015, FireChat introduced private messaging. Until then, it had only been possible to post messages to public chatrooms.
FireChat first became popular in 2014 in Iraq following government restrictions on internet use, and thereafter during the Hong Kong protests. In 2015, FireChat was also promoted by protesters during the 2015 Ecuadorian protests. On September 11, 2015, during the massive pro-independence demonstration called Free Way to the Catalan Republic, FireChat was used 131,000 times.
In January 2016, students protested at the University of Hyderabad, India, following the suicide of a PhD student named Rohith Vemula. Some students were reported to have used Firechat after the university shut down its Wi-Fi.
In June 2014, Firechat’s developers told Wired that “[p]eople need to understand that this is not a tool to communicate anything that would put them in a harmful situation if it were to be discovered by somebody who’s hostile … It was not meant for secure or private communications.”
As of July 2015, FireChat claims to use end-to-end encryption to protect its one-to-one private messages.
There are many more similar networks available either for free or paid (for security). You can Google around. Few of them are listed below:
- The SPAN Project
Smart Phone Ad hoc Networks (SPANs) leverage the existing hardware (primarily Bluetooth and Wi-Fi) in commercially available smart phones to create peer-to-peer networks without relying on cellular carrier networks, wireless access points, or traditional network infrastructure. SPANs differ from traditional hub and spoke networks, such as Wi-Fi Direct, in that they support multi-hop relays and there is no notion of a group leader so peers can join and leave at will without destroying the network.
- The Serval Project
The project aims to develop technology that can be used to create direct connections between cellular phones through their Wi-Fi interfaces, without the need of a mobile phone operator. The technology allows for live voice calls whenever the mesh is able to find a route between the participants. Text messages and other data can be communicated using a store and forward system called Rhizome, allowing communication over unlimited distances and without a stable live mesh connection between all participants.
- Commotion Wireless
Commotion Wireless is an open-source wireless mesh network for electronic communication. The project was developed by the Open Technology Institute, and development included a $2 million grant from the United States Department of State in 2011 for use as a mobile ad hoc network (MANET), concomitant with the Arab Spring. It was preliminarily deployed in Detroit in late 2012, and launched generally in March 2013. It rose to fame in the USA with Hurricane Sandy in 2012: After the storm took out all the internet and telephone lines in New York, Commotion was the only communication network still up and running in the city. The project has been called an “Internet in a Suitcase”.
- Briar (software)
Briar is an open-source software mesh networking technology, intended to provide secure and resilient peer to peer communications with no centralized servers and minimal reliance on external infrastructure. Connections are made through bluetooth, WiFi, or over the internet via TOR and all private communication is end-to-end encrypted. Relevant content is stored in encrypted form on participating devices. Long term plans for the project “including blogging, crisis mapping and collaborative document editing”.The initial target audience for Briar includes “activists, journalists and civil society” with plans to make the system “simple enough to help anyone keep their data safe”. The ability to function as a mesh in the absence of internet infrastructure may also make the project valuable to disaster response and aid organisations, the developers are working with the Open Humanitarian Initiative and Taarifa. Ultimately, the developers aim to create a system which is “as simple to use as WhatsApp, as secure as PGP, and that keeps working if somebody breaks the Internet”.
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