FireChat creators eye football stadiums and developing markets following usage spike triggered by Hong-Kong's Instagram ban
The chief marketing officer of US tech start-up Open Garden, designers of app FireChat, has told The Drum that fears of an internet shut-down in Hong Kong led to over 300,000 downloads of the peer-to-peer app in just three days.
Firechat at a music festival
Speaking from Los Angeles, Christophe Daligault said he was “amazed and overwhelmed” by the adoption of FireChat by pro-democracy activists in the city and although the media coverage of the application's role in allowing people to communicate during the protests made him proud, he said: “The real heroes are the students.”
FireChat, which was launched in March 2014, uses wireless mesh networking to enable people to use their phones to communicate without an internet connection, for example using Bluetooth. Daligault told the Drum that that the application was originally designed as a proof of concept of his company's technology and he had not expected it to be as widely adopted as it has become.
The CMO said that the application, as well as allowing p2p communication in the absence of an internet connection, was useful when mobile phone networks were overwhelmed by traffic: “When you get a lot of people in high density places, using phones brings cellular networks down to their knees, they're not set up for such a burst of activity. In sports venues or at concerts you suddenly get a lot of people and the networks get congested,” he said.
Daligault told The Drum that using FireChat could be useful for sporting venues to communicate with crowds without having to install expensive wireless networks that would be used only rarely. A football club, the CMO said, “could Interact with fans, provide to them digital stickers in all of the devices and when they leave and go back home you still have a direct link to them.”
Open Garden also has big plans in the developing world where there are large numbers of people in high density urban areas in India or Brazil who can afford to buy a smartphone but not afford a data plan.
“The cost to build cellular infrastructure is huge and it is an enormous effort, we think a huge part of this traffic could operate over peer to peer,” Daligault said.
The CMO told The Drum that the company’s business plan did not call for charging customers to use their applications: “I can give an assurance that they will be free to end users forever,” he said.
Instead, Open Garden aims to move into profit by licensing their technology to businesses building their own applications.
The company is also planning to introduce a “verified name” option in FireChat allowing companies and brands to engage with consumers both on and off the grid.