Open Garden last week made further upgrades to its FireChat application, which the company rolled out in March this year. The FireChat apps offers a new connectivity option for mobile devices - enabling people to connect to each other even when there is no cellular or Wi-Fi connection. Via its peer-to-peer connection, users can send text and pictures to others in the vicinity without connecting to the internet. The off-the-grid mobile connectivity has seen millions of downloads of its FireChat app upon its debut in the market.
According to Christophe Daligault, the Chief Marketing Officer of Open Garden, the latest upgrade, the FireChat 2.7, sees the introduction of unique user names, creating offline digital identities or 'virtual avatars'. When users launch their FireChat apps, they can easily identify other people whom they know who are also on the FireChat apps and can start sending text and pictures without having to have connection to the internet.
Christophe explained that Open Garden's mesh networking technology, which powers the FireChat apps, opens the door to two major use-cases - first, it creates the private internet enabling communities and geographies to connect themselves; secondly, it extends the internet connectivity by enabling one device that has cellular connection to provide internet connection to other devices that do not have data access. At a connectivity distance of 70m between one device to another, the mesh technology enables any number of devices to connect to each other, expanding the reach to a much farther distance. In essence, the mesh technology complements the data network in the same way as the other technologies such as small cells, Distributed Antenna System (DAS) and LampSite radio units, which work on expanding the network reach and coverage. The mesh technology does this by using devices as the connection nodes, leveraging the widespread use of mobile devices.
The nature of the mesh technology sees Open Garden's FireChat apps becoming hugely popular in places which are densely populated where there is always a device within a close range and also in places where data connection rates are too expensive for a large chunk of users, says Christophe. To date, the Asia Pacific region takes up the highest share for the number of downloads of the FireChat apps at 23% while North America and Europe take a share of 22% each. In terms of countries, the United States records the highest number of downloads (21%) followed by India and Brazil at 10% and 6% respectively.
In the more developed markets, where cost constraints and data coverage is not really an issue, Open Garden sees its technology an important alternative during emergency situations during which connection to the cellular network becomes unavailable or during major events such as music festivals, seminars and sporting events where large crowds congregate and simple bluetooth or peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection enables people to stay connected when the network reaches its threshold . Apart from adressing data coverage and congestion issues, Open Garden's solution extends connectivity across public venues such as colleges, public transportation and in densely populated city centers, said Christophe.
Christophe also added that Open Garden is expected to roll out more features on its FireChat application in near future, and is already working on a host of parallel initiatives including the development of its Software Development Kit (SDK) to enable third party providers such as gaming developers to leverage its mesh technology to provide connectivity for its users who require connection to the internet to make purchases or to connect to advertisement links.