FireChat Lets You Chat Without Internet And Phone Connection, But How?

In this week's Tech Tuesday, we take a look at FireChat, an off-the-grid messaging app that makes offline chatting with others around you possible.

Cover image via androidcentral

You will have experienced this yourself: you're at a football match and you need to find a friend. But the crowd means that the network is overloaded, and you can’t get a signal on your phone!

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Mobile webstores are filled and stuffed up with messaging apps from WhatsApp to LINE and their many imitators. But none of those innovations was much use without a connection, except for one...

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Introducing FireChat.

Released early last year, it is an instant messaging app for Android and iOS that doesn't rely on cell phone reception to work.

Image via WSJ

But HOW?!

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Well, instead of global positioning and cell phone triangulation, FireChat relies on Bluetooth to send text and share images

In other words, you can open the app in the basement of your university library and chat with others, even if you don't have cell service. With each new user that logs on, FireChat's range expands. "As long as there is a FireChat-enabled device to act as a node in the chain, there's really no geographic limit to how big the ad hoc network can be," creator Micha Benoliel says.

The app was started by Micha Benoliel, a French entrepreneur

Micha Benoliel at the 'Occupy Central' protest.

Image via IBN

In 2010, French entrepreneur Micha Benoliel had a vision: that the world’s billion or so smartphones could be turned into their own network, with each phone acting as a “node” extending the Internet as we know it.

He started to raise money for a startup, Open Garden, which would allow phones to communicate directly through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and other ubiquitous technologies independent of the Internet and cellular networks. In 2014, as a proof of concept, he built a demo messaging app to take advantage of that network, FireChat.

The app had a relatively slow start in the market, but all that changed during the protest movement 'Occupy Central' which took place in Hong Kong last year

Image via CNN

The revolution will not be televised but it will be tweeted, instant messaged or, in the case of Hong Kong, broadcast on mesh networks like FireChat.

FireChat -- an 'off-the-grid' smartphone app -- emerged this month as the technological glue holding Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests together and a powerful weapon in the hands of mass movements, dissidents and protesters.

Unlike mobile networks which come under strain and break down when too many users tax the system, FireChat triumphs especially in overcrowded engagements like mass protests and concerts

"We were pretty much forced to use it almost at the start of the protests because there were just so many people in the protest areas, it made the cell network so slow," said Pamela Lam, an 'Occupy Central' pro-democracy activist. "FireChat doesn't need data to work -- a lot of people were downloading it."

But does FireChat live up to its hype? We downloaded the iOS app and played around with it. Here's what we thought:

Image via SAYS

Like any other messaging app, you'll be asked to sign up for an account, it's pretty straightforward

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Once you're in, FireChat greets you with a clean and lightweight user interface where you can instantly chat with

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The Everyone mode is essentially like a large group chat, you're basically talking to every FireChat user in Malaysia.

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Follow prominent figures like Marina Mahathir or your friends with the discover mode.

To make things interesting, you could customise your profile by uploading a profile photo and putting in your bio. Tell the world about yourself!

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In the past, users were not able to send private messages using FireChat, but a recent update has made it possible!

Image via SAYS

In addition to sending public chat messages, FireChat now has a function that allows users to send private messages through a peer-to-peer mesh network. Leave your WiFi and Bluetooth on and send your message, and FireChat will transmit the message from phone to phone till the message reaches its intended destination.

Private messages are encrypted too, so you won't have to worry about people peeping into your chatrooms or the government spying on you

Image via SAYS

FireChat private messages are encrypted end-to-end, meaning the sender and recipient are the only people who can read the private messages sent and received. No one else has access to the content of private messages.

FireChat is made up of different chatrooms. Create your own chatroom if you decide to start a new topic of discussion.

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Do note that every FireChat conversation is public, so there’s no locking the door on your self-created chat room, even if it’s designed just for your roommates.

In nearby mode, the app uses Bluetooth and WiFi to connect to nearby phones that also have the app installed.

Image via SAYS

Overall, using FireChat is a breeze - the user interface is simple and easy to navigate around. Being able to communicate without a phone signal is an added advantage and extremely useful especially during crowded engagements.

PS: Follow the SAYS verified account @saysdotcom on FireChat to receive the latest news, updates and stories directly from us!

Download FireChat on Google Playstore and iTunes.

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