FireChat Alerts lets organisations broadcast messages even when networks fail | tech$features | Hindustan Times
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FireChat Alerts lets organisations broadcast messages even when networks fail

Open Garden has announced that it’s going to showcase FireChat Alerts at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul.

tech Updated: May 23, 2016 16:20 IST
Sanshey Biswas
FireChat Alerts is a new app for mobile devices and the web, designed for government organisations, NGOs and media to broadcast and disseminate ‘one-to-very-many’ alerts to mobile devices within a specific geographical area and period of time.
FireChat Alerts is a new app for mobile devices and the web, designed for government organisations, NGOs and media to broadcast and disseminate ‘one-to-very-many’ alerts to mobile devices within a specific geographical area and period of time.(Open Garden)

Open Garden has announced that it’s going to showcase FireChat Alerts at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on May 23-24, 2016. Alerts, a new feature on the FireChat app promises to keep smartphones connected even when networks fail during disasters or network congestion. The technology will allow organisations and individuals to transmit messages even when there’s no signal on their smartphones.

“FireChat Alerts is a new app for mobile devices and the web, designed for government organisations, NGOs and media to broadcast and disseminate ‘one-to-very-many’ alerts to mobile devices within a specific geographical area and period of time. It acts as a resilient large-scale broadcasting system, reaching people’s smartphones to deliver text and visual information including early warning, emergency and health advisories, as well as weather and traffic information,” said Open Garden.

Secretary-General of United Nations, Ban Ki-moon recently published a report that highlighted, “honouring our commitment to leave no one behind requires reaching everyone in situations of conflict, disaster, vulnerability and risk.” FireChat aims to make that possible and fail-safe with their Alerts feature.

The messaging app has gathered keen interest of Gil Francis Arevalo of UN. He said, “Witnessing an average of 20 typhoons annually, everyone in the Philippines has a very keen interest in innovation that helps both in preparedness and response during and after emergencies.” FireChat has been growing rapidly in Philippines because of networks being unreliable during typhoons. But that’s not the only place FireChat has come to the rescue of those stranded in a disaster and disconnected from help because of network failure. During the Kashmir floods of 2015 and even the Chennai floods, FireChat was used for people to stay in touch and assist rescue efforts. Even during the march to condemn the Charlie Hebdo attack in France and Hong Kong protest of 2014, FireChat was the only way protestors could communicated. While networks get congested due to too many people gathering a small area, FireChat gets stronger and more efficient.

Usually, when you send an alert or public message, it goes to the cell tower that broadcasts it to every other smartphone connected to it. But when the network goes down, so does the ability to send alerts. FireChat eliminates the need for a cellular network with their peer-to-peer mesh network technology. Instead of setting up a huge tower to provide coverage to phones in an area, this tech converts every phone with FireChat on it to a small tower. Several such phones put together create a mesh network that only gets better as more and more people join.

If you send a FireChat Alert, it bounces off the nearest phone to the next till it reached the intended distance. But that’s not all that FireChat can do. Even when networks get congested at a music concerts, FireChat users can still send public messages that use this mesh network to broadcast the message to everyone nearby.

You can also send private messages on FireChat. They are encrypted, so while they travel by bouncing off phones between the sender and recipient, no one except for them can read it. FireChat estimates that it takes only 5% of the population in a city to have the app installed for the entire country area to be blanketed by the service. It can also leverage the internet connectivity on one of the phones in the networks to cut down the travel time of these messages.