Offline messaging apps like Bridgefy, FireChat gain popularity amid internet shutdowns in India

Offline messaging apps gain popularity in India (pradeep gaur/mint). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

NEW DELHI, Dec 22, 2019, Hindustan Times. With authorities using internet shutdowns as a tool to control protests, activists and protestors are now turning to offline instant messaging applications. Bridgefy, FireChat, and many other similar applications are becoming increasingly popular in the country, Hindustan Times reported.

Bridgefy is available on both Google and Apple app stores. The application works in three modes. In the first, Bridgefy uses Bluetooth connectivity to allow users to send one-to-one texts in the vicinity of 330 feet (100 meters). For long-distance texts, Bridgefy uses a mesh network, which essentially requires a higher number of devices running the app in proximity. Another mode is “Broadcast” which allows users to send texts to anybody around those using the Bridgefy app.

A Times of India report citing data from US app intelligence firm Apptopia reveals that Bridgefy downloads and usage grew 80 times when the internet was blocked in Assam and Meghalaya starting December 12. The downloads rose to 2,609 times on December 12, much higher than the 25 average daily downloads. There was a similar spike in the usage and downloads when the internet was shut down in parts of New Delhi earlier this week.

The report pointed out a similar surge in usage and downloads for FireChat. Available on both Google Play Store and Apple App Store, FireChat is another peer-to-peer messaging application that works without internet access or cellular data to send messages and images. Similar to Bridgefy, FireChat uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios in smartphones to allow users to send texts. The basic mode covers 200 feet of distance.

Apart from FireChat and Bridgefy, users can also consider applications such as Signal Offline. The application allows users to communicate without the internet in a range of up to 100 meters. The app uses Wi-Fi Direct to allow users to share text messages. Signal Offline also supports video messages, audio, and images. The app is available for download on the Google Play Store.

In the case of internet shutdowns, users can also turn to USSD platform to access some key services. The USSD works with all smartphones including basic feature phones. For instance, you can dial *99# to check your bank account balance or send money to contact. Note that some USSD services can be paid.

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