News & Current Affairs
01 October 2014
How Hong Kong Protesters Are Connecting, Without Cell Or Wi-Fi Networks
People check their phones at a pro-democracy demonstration in Hong Kong.
As throngs of pro-democracy protesters continue to organize in Hong Kong's central business district, many of them are messaging one another through a network that doesn't require cell towers or Wi-Fi nodes. They're using an app called FireChat that launched in March and is underpinned by mesh networking, which lets phones unite to form a temporary Internet.
"Mesh networks are an especially resilient tool because there's no easy way for a government to shut them down. They can't just block cell reception or a site address. Mesh networks are like Voldemort after he split his soul into horcruxes (only not evil). Destroying one part won't kill it unless you destroy each point of access; someone would have to turn off Bluetooth on every phone using FireChat to completely break the connection. This hard-to-break connection isn't super important for casual chats, but during tense political showdowns, it could be a lifeline."
And as we have previously reported, Open Garden, the company that made FireChat and an Android mesh networking app also called Open Garden, has bigger ambitions for mesh networking:
"Once you build a mesh network ... now you have a network that is resilient, self-healing, cannot be controlled by any central organization, cannot be shut down and is always working," Christophe Daligault, Open Garden's vice president for sales and marketing says. "I think that solves many other drawbacks or challenges of the mobile broadband Internet today."
He says none of this would be possible without the rapid spread of smartphones, because that means no extra hardware is needed.