OpenGarden has a new update for its rather unique FireChat app that users on both sides of the mobile divide would most likely love. With the aptly named the FireChat <3 (Love) update, Android and iOS users will now be able to message anyone of the opposite mobile inclination even when they don’t have an Internet connection at hand.
FireChat isn’t exactly news. It appeared around March as a way for iOS users to chat off-grid, that is to say without an Internet or cellular data connection. Encouraged by the positive response from the launch, its creators, OpenGarden, decided to make it also available on Android, though not without difficulties. A few weeks later, the app did arrive on Android. But FireChat then had one glaring limitation. iOS users can only chat with iOS users. Same with Android. The latest update, however, finally resolves that issue, making FireChat useful for anyone and everyone.
In itself, FireChat is an interesting idea since it does away with the need for any sort of Internet connection. It uses what is called peer-to-peer mesh networking. Think of it like a net, or mesh, which is where the name comes from. Every point on the net is a network node and is connected to one or more nodes in the network. For Node A to connect to, say, Node E, it can go through other nodes like B, C, and D, though not exactly in that order. Depending on the actual routing computations, it can first detour to Node S before jumping to Node K, before finally landing on Node E. On iOS, such a feature is available for developers to use. There is, unfortunately, no equivalent on Android, so OpenGarden had to roll out their own.
In practice, FireChat will let you connect to anyone and everyone. Once you enter your name in the FireChat app, you will be immediately dumped into the mesh of other FireChat users, with a “Nearby” filter to determine those within a 30-foot radius. This is your mesh and, if your target is within that mesh, you’ll be able to chat with him or her even when there’s no Internet around. OpenGarden is keeping the exact details of its implementation under wraps, but it does say it uses the staples of wireless mesh networking like peer-to-peer WiFi and Bluetooth personal area networks (PAN).
There will most likely be security and privacy concerns for such a kind of messaging system but there are definitely benefits as well. Something like FireChat will be useful in disaster and emergency situations and rescue, as well as letting those in remote areas be able to send messages. OpenGarden is planning on providing an SDK to make FireChat and its mesh networking technology available for third party developers. One possible feature in the future would be providing Internet connection through this off-grid mesh when the usual connection options are unavailable. For a price, most likely.