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FireChat App

Have Bad Cell Service? You Need This Texting App

Source: Getty / Alex Ogle

Like many other revolutions across the world in the past few years, cell phones have played a crucial role in the current Occupy Central movement sweeping Hong Kong. Protesters want to be able to freely elect leadership candidates in the 2017 election, but the Chinese central government in Beijing has denied the request. So, to push on with their pro-democracy efforts, protesters are turning to one extremely useful mobile app in particular. It's called FireChat, and there's been a huge uptick in downloads in the past few days. Here's what you need to know about it.

What Is It?

FireChat is an app that lets you chat with people "off the grid." It works even when you don't have cellular data connection or WiFi. You can download it for free, and it's available for both iOS and Android.

Source: Firechat

How Is That Possible?

It relies on a connectivity framework that creates a daisy chain of nearby smartphones that power the app. Essentially every phone that's on the app helps to expand the network. So, the more people that use it, the better the connectivity — that's pretty much the opposite of cell service.

How Else Does It Work?

Like the name suggests, FireChat provides live chat rooms that anyone can hop in and join anonymously. There's an "everyone" chat room where you can see what people in your country are talking about; there's a "nearby" chat room that reaches people within a 200-foot range; and of course, you can create your own chat room around a certain topic and tell people to join. One chat room fits up to 10,000 people.

Why Is It Useful For Protests?

Too many people in one place weakens cell service, making it difficult for large protest groups to communicate with one another. There's also the chance that authorities are jamming cell networks on purpose. In Hong Kong, people have been using FireChat to discuss which roads are blocked, where police are pepper spraying people, how to help distribute food, and other essential details.

There are plenty of other, more mundane reasons you might want to use FireChat outside of a major protest (when there's no cell service in the subway, at concerts, etc.), but the way it's fueling a mass radical movement is pretty darn impressive.

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