Keep on Texting, LOL
It’s no secret that texting is the predominate form of communication for the majority of teenagers these days. According to a report by Niche Data, 87% of teens text on a daily basis. From ages 13-17, girls send on average 3,952 text messages a month. Boys of the same age group send a little less at 2,815 text messages a month. Parents have attempted to curtail some of this abuse by eliminating texting or data plans from their teenager’s device. Relying on wi-fi connections have been the result for many youngsters, but what happens when there are no wi-fi signals available, such as at school? To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life, uh, finds a way”.
The mesh-net revolution has begun, and it’s growth is being fueled from inside Junior High’s and High Schools of America. What used to be a wi-fi dead-zone has now become the heart of ad-hoc mesh networking. While wi-fi and cell coverage relies on a central organization, such as an ISP or phone company, mesh networking is a fluid network where the cell phone itself becomes the cell tower. Utilizing low powered bluetooth signals, phones are able to communicate with each other when they are within proximity.
Most phones have Bluetooth and wi-fi radios built into them. Bluetooth is used to connect to your car, headphones and other device extensions and wi-fi connects to a router. Those same wireless signals can connect to other phones as well, regardless of whether it’s an Android or iPhone. This forms a peer-to-peer mesh network as the phones daisy-chain to each other. These networks work in any situation, whether you are connected to the Internet or not, even in airplane mode, as long as Bluetooth is on.
The explosion of the new messaging app Jott, has found astronomical success in targeting teenagers with devices that have limited connectivity to cellular or wi-fi access. They’ve created closed networks with other devices in schools that are within 100 feet of each other, essentially creating a “mesh” of interconnected devices that can extend over a very large area. For security and safety, to join a school network, Jott users must provide their real names, birth dates, phone numbers or emails and location to gain access.
Other peer-to-peer network apps like FireChat, have found adoption in large-scale events such as Burning Man and SXSW. These events always have spotty cell coverage and wi-fi access. Using FireChat, attendees have a simple, reliable way to communicate with each other and find out what events are taking place and where. Last fall, 500,000 protestors in Hong Kong downloaded FireChat within a 7-day period, in fear the authorities would shut down cell and wi-fi access.
Emergencies & Emerging Nations
These apps go well beyond the needs of schools and events. Natural disasters or other unforeseen circumstances can wipe out cell towers and shut down wi-fi access for long periods of time. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornados are all frequent examples of the type of situations people face. Imagine the difference mesh networks would have made during hurricane Katrina had more people been able to communicate with each other.
It’s estimated that within the next three years there will be 5 billion smartphones on the planet. A large number of these will be shipped in emerging markets where very often, people can’t pay for a data plan, or where connectivity is lacking. Mesh-networking will be the answer to their communication and it will only continue to advance,