Mobile

Communication App Works Without a Cellular Network

An app called MeshMe lets you communicate without a cellular or Wi-Fi connection, providing enough other users are close by.

Many places still lack reliable wireless network service.

A new smartphone app lets you send text messages to your friends without a Wi-Fi or cellular network. It could make it a lot simpler to stay in touch wherever there are plenty of other people but the normal networks are either overloaded or nonexistent.

Called MeshMe, the app allows you to chat with several people at a time while your phone is in airplane mode as long as you keep Wi-Fi or Bluetooth radio on. An iPhone MeshMe app was released last month, and an Android version is expected to be ready in several months, MeshMe CEO Jory Schwach says.

MeshMe uses what’s known as mesh networking: it treats each smartphone running the app as a router, passing data from one handset to the next to get messages to recipients via the most efficient pathway. Even if you’re acting as a node in this network, you can’t read data sent over MeshMe unless it is routed to you, Schwach says.

Mesh networking is increasingly used to help people keep in touch even when out of network range (see “Build Your Own Internet with Mobile Mesh Networking”). An app called FireChat has a “nearby” chat room that allows you to send messages to anyone within 30 meters of you (see “The Latest Chat App for iPhone Needs No Internet Connection”).

MeshMe lets you talk with anyone, as long as a message can reach them via other MeshMe users. It can find contacts by combing your phone’s address book or your Facebook profile.

When you send another MeshMe user a message, your phone asks devices nearby if they know the person you’re looking for; if those devices do not, the message is passed on to other users. Once your phone finds a good path, it can route the data; and if the network changes (say, someone turns off her phone), MeshMe will try to find a new route.

Schwach says the distance over which MeshMe will work varies according to the amount of wireless signal interference in the area (which increases if there are more phone-toting people around). The iPhone 6 should be able to transfer data via MeshMe at a distance of about 20 to 30 meters using Wi-Fi. Over Bluetooth, it’s more like 10 to 15 meters.

In one test, the startup positioned a person with MeshMe running on an iPhone on each floor of a 13-floor building, and it took less than half a second to send a message from the user on the ground floor to the user on the top floor.

In my limited experience, MeshMe didn’t always work. I tried it with my iPhone and one belonging to a coworker, and for some reason I could only get the app to send messages one way while the handsets were in airplane mode and their Wi-Fi radios were turned on. After setting it up with a second coworker’s iPhone, however, it worked fine, and messages sometimes arrived faster than they did when routed over a regular wireless network.

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