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Slow connection? Can’t find Wi-Fi? No problem! The FireChat app allows users to stay connected off the grid.

FireChat App

FireChat isn’t a completely new concept. Peer-to-peer technology has been used for years. Napster first used peer-to-peer technology to allow users to share music files. More recently, the Serval Project was developed How To Use Serval Mesh To Chat To Other Mobile Phones Without A Phone Network [Android 2.2+] How To Use Serval Mesh To Chat To Other Mobile Phones Without A Phone Network [Android 2.2+] For those of us living in first world cities, it's hard to imagine how we would get on if we couldn't communicate easily with our mobile phones. Yes, some of us might recall the days... Read More  to keep people connected during a disaster when data networks go down by using mesh networks, which may just be the future of communication. Mesh Networks: The Future of Communication Mesh Networks: The Future of Communication Mesh networks are almost invulnerable. In a mesh network, there are no choke points through which all traffic passes. Instead, information is passed from one device to the next until it reaches its destination. Read More

So, Why is FireChat Important?

The FireChat app, made by startup company Open Garden in San Francisco, first gained popularity when over 500,000 people downloaded the app during the Hong Kong demonstrations last year. The demonstrators downloaded the app in fear of the government turning off cell or Wi-Fi access, as was the case during recent political unrest in Iraq.

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When Facebook blocked a page promoting a protest in Russia, FireChat was again downloaded.

Even more, thousands of people downloaded FireChat during the SXSW event in Austin, Texas. The idea was to promote event details, DJ sightings and live discussions of what to do, where to go, etc.

FireChat even created “chat-tags” to create or join a live discussion based on topics. Users during SXSW used this feature to discuss with thousands of users to find the most popular show and location, for example. Micha Benoliel, co-founder and CEO of Open Garden has been quite fascinated with Firechat’s usage.

“From Burning Man to the streets of Hong Kong…I’ve always been surprised by how people use FireChat.” — Micha Benoliel

How It Works

Traditionally, users sent messages to each other through data or Wi-Fi networks. The messages are sent through a mobile network to a hotspot or cell phone tower. The data sent through to these data towers or Wi-Fi hotspots are then relayed through a centralized network and eventually the messages or data is received. During all of this data transfer period, your VPN is tracked. Though you can use a VPN service to protect your mobile data 5 Great Free VPN Services Compared: Which Is Fastest? 5 Great Free VPN Services Compared: Which Is Fastest? Virtual private networks (VPNs) aren’t much of a mainstream service. The only ones who know about VPNs are those who are sufficiently tech-literate, and even among these folks, only few actually use VPNs. The name... Read More , information about your network can be tracked.

If you’re not sure how it works, read this excellent article on how to add security to your connection with a VPN What A VPN Tunnel Is & How To Set One Up What A VPN Tunnel Is & How To Set One Up Read More .

Unlike most chatting apps, the FireChat app doesn’t rely solely on Wi-Fi or data – it doesn’t even need a hotspot or centralized mobile network to relay data. Instead, the app relies on peer-to-peer connections through wireless mesh networking via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, technology built in the phone. As long as the FireChat users are within 100 feet of each other, they can connect and share messages.

“It’s the first app that comes with its own network.” — Micha Benoliel

Additionally, the ability to receive and request data without a centralized mobile network allows users of the FireChat app to stay “off the grid” and remain anonymous. Even hotspots have proven to be prime opportunities for hackers to gain user information, which is why you should always follow these tips when using Wi-Fi hotspots.

What is “Off the Grid?”

Staying “off the grid” means exactly as it sounds — users can exchange in communication without a  centralized mobile network that may or may not collect data on the user. Socially speaking, staying “off the grid” can allow chat users on a peer-to-peer network to remain anonymous. If you’re not sure on how to create a secure hotspot How To Set Up Your Own Secured Wi-Fi Hotspot How To Set Up Your Own Secured Wi-Fi Hotspot Read More (or don’t have the ability to do so), FireChat might be your best option.

Users of FireChat realized this and took advantage of their anonymous blueprint. Instead of using Facebook, WhatsApp or other messaging apps, FireChat users used the app to stay connected and message each other. Though the developers said they don’t want to put anyone at risk.

“People 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.” — Firechat

Everyday Use

The application works by posting public messages for everyone to read. The messages that are posted are “live” for only three hours and then not searchable or archived. Also, there isn’t a private chat option, which is surely a turn-off for those wanting more privacy. Even more, the technology has a lot more to be desired – users have complained about not being able to connect with people that are nearby.

However, the application is taking off on the Android and iPhone markets, as many people are interested in chatting “off the grid.”

What do you think of this “off the grid” messaging technology? Will you download the Firechat app?

Image Credits: Alpinist with phone Via Shutterstock

  1. Rob Reid
    August 3, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    I downloaded it and it just seemed like Twitter, people messaging (with WIFI on obv) on different topics so everyone can see the messages.

    If no-one is near you with bluetooth on and the app installed you cannot just talk in the "nearby" room.

    What I don't get (which is really annoying me) as she is sooo un techie - is how a girl I know in the Phillipines installed in and followed me and messaged me (seemingly privately) with a message and I replied to her.

    However I cannot find any way to message her back or even message the bloke in the downstairs office who has the app installed!

    Doing my swede in!

  2. David
    April 17, 2015 at 1:48 am

    I can see a use by first responders in an area affected by a natural disaster (hurricane for example) when the cell towers and data networks are down. This could allow them to communicate without using the radio spectrum.

  3. Jonathan
    April 17, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Sounds like a good idea EXCEPTION: does NOT work on IOS less than 7.0!
    So... doesn't work for my iPhone.

    • Judy
      April 17, 2015 at 8:16 am

      Well, I'd like a massage.

  4. Ben
    April 16, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    You said, "As long as the FireChat users are within 100 feet of each other, they can connect and share massages." Two things, for one, you should've said "messages", in the last word of that sentence, not "massages". Secondly, why, if this this app is truely made to be "not meant for secure or private communications", dont you use an approach, kind of like FHSS, in WIFI? Whereas the first two letters in FHSS mean Frequency Hopping, why don't you use a sort of HH, or Hotspot Hopping approach (A phrase I just came up with, thankyou very much.) to let messages travel, almost throughout an entire country (if not throughout an entire continent)?

    • Shay Meinecke
      April 17, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      Fixed :) Thanks for pointing out my mistake.

    • DWH
      April 18, 2015 at 1:07 am

      I think it would be great if they were massages. I might be interested then, since I have a chronic muscle spasm in my back.

    • Ben
      April 18, 2015 at 1:14 pm

      DWH Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha. I almost forgot how to laugh.

  5. WPP
    April 15, 2015 at 7:49 pm

    Windows phone please.

  6. Luis
    April 15, 2015 at 4:45 am

    Firechat is great if you want to receive 300 messages per second in 8 different languages from people you don't know.

    • Suleiman
      April 15, 2015 at 2:07 pm

      Luis, how is that possible to receive 300 messages if the range allowed for FC to work is only 100 m or less.

    • Shay Meinecke
      April 17, 2015 at 3:16 pm

      This was one of the main drawbacks of the app. A lot of messages are being fired off at once, making it very difficult to understand who is chatting and what is being said.

      A lot of critics of that app said the very same thing.

    • Lisation
      April 17, 2015 at 8:51 pm

      @Sulieman

      If you live in a multicultural city with a high density or crowded streets, this isnt very hard at all. Take a look at Tokyo for example. There are 23 "districts" making up Tokyo (divided into these districts to keep the paperwork manageable). And there are 36 million people living in Tokyo, that makes a rough estimate of 1.5 milion per district.

      That is not taking into account all the commuters and visitors. So 300 messages in a second isnt very unreasonable. Lets make it 300 per 10 seconds to account for those without the app.

  7. Rosario Contarino
    April 14, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    As long as the code is kept private (not open source) they are trustworthy only as much as they say they are, ironically speaking.

    This should apply to everything, of course.

    • Donald
      April 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      This is not true. People should stop obsessing about everything becoming open source and transparent. That is socialism. Some companies should be better than others and keep their secrets to themselves, or we will end up in a closed society - again.

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