FireChat in Hong Kong: How an app tapped its way into the protests U

The revolution will not be televised but it will be tweeted, instant messaged or, in the case of Hong Kong, broadcast on mesh networks like FireChat.
FireChat — an ‘off-the-grid’ smartphone app — emerged this month as the technological glue holding Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests together and a powerful weapon in the hands of mass movements, dissidents and protesters.
The app works by creating its own network outside the internet, relying simply on the Bluetooth or Wi-Fi link that exist between one phone and another.
Unlike mobile and internet networks which come under strain and break down the more users tax the system, the more people in a mesh network like FireChat, the better it works.
“We were pretty much forced to use it almost at the start of the protests because there were just so many people in the protest areas, it made the cell network so slow,” said Pamela Lam, an ‘Occupy Central’ pro-democracy activist. “FireChat doesn’t need data to work — a lot of people were downloading it.”
The company that developed the application, Open Garden, initially struggled to keep up with its new-found popularity, adding more capacity as news of the app spread from Hong Kong to rest of the world.
Unexpected success
For a start-up that only launched in March this year, the numbers were staggering.
In the first two weeks of the protests, between September 27 and October 10, the service registered 500,000 downloads in Hong Kong alone (61% on Android and 39% on iOS), 10.2 million chat sessions and 1.6 million chatrooms.
“We were not expecting this and we were very surprised,” FireChat marketing chief Christophe Daligault told CNN. “We saw this enormous surge in our service and realized something really big was happening.

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