The hottest trend in mobile: going offline!

Suddenly, the industry woke up to the reality that we can't always get connected to the Internet

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Depending on the app, two kinds of networks can be formed with Multipeer Connectivity Framework technology. One is an isolated network, which is formed when, say, 10 devices connect and communicate with one another but aren't connected to the Internet in any way. The other is a chain of devices that connect to each other and back to an Internet-connected device, thereby bringing Internet connectivity to all of them.

Let's say Janet, Steve and Mark all want to chat with each other. With regular wireless connectivity, each of them would have to be within range of and connect to a Wi-Fi hotspot or a wireless phone company's cell tower. It's a hub-and-spoke configuration, with each device on the network connecting to a hub of some kind.

With wireless mesh networking, Janet, Steve and Mark could set up their own isolated network or they could form a chain back to an Internet connection.

In the isolated network scenario, none of them have Internet access, but they can connect with each other in their own network via mesh networking.

And they could form a chain if just one of them had an Internet connection. Say Janet has a Wi-Fi connection but Steve and Mark are out of range but are near Janet -- say, within 100 feet or so. In that scenario, Steve could connect to Janet and Mark could connect to Steve, and they could all share Janet's connection.

One of the first apps to support the Multipeer Connectivity Framework is FireChat from Open Garden. FireChat lets people hold conversations, even if they're in a wireless Internet dead zone. FireChat uses both the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios in an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet to create a mesh network.

Here's a basic FireChat scenario: Let's say you held a conference in a small hotel where the basement-level conference rooms didn't have mobile broadband connectivity or Wi-Fi. If all of the attendees used FireChat, everyone would be able to get an Internet connection, even those in the basement. The devices of people mingling in the lobby would link directly to the devices of attendees on the stairs and in the elevators, forming chains of connectivity down into the ballrooms and hallways below. Note that FireChat is designed to extend the reach of the Internet, and requires at least one device in the chain to be online.

An alternative to FireChat, an iOS app called HelloChat, is designed to function without any Internet connectivity at all. The network is local only, and it's useful for forming ad-hoc networks when connecting to the Internet is not an option.

To be very clear, neither FireChat nor HelloChat create connectivity generally. They just make it possible to use messaging or chat tools in Internet dead zones.

Wireless mesh networking has existed for years. But Apple's Multipeer Connectivity Framework is bringing it into the mainstream because it's built in as a core feature of a major consumer operating system.

It's clear that the mobile industry has finally given up on the fantasy that an Internet connection is available to all users at all times. Reality has set in. And in the past month, we've seen a new wave of products and services that help us go offline and still function.

Mike Elgan writes about technology and tech culture. You can contact Mike and learn more about him at http://Google.me/+MikeElgan. You can also see more articles by Mike Elgan on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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