Consider the following situations:

1. You and your family are in an isolated island with a lovely white beach. It’s late at night, and you are already in your respective tents. You have an important thing to say to one of your cousins, but you are too tired from swimming and building sand castles to get up and go to his tent. You try to send him a text message, but you realize that there is no cellular signal in the area.

2. You and your friends are at the Philippine Arena for Eat Bulaga’s “Sa Tamang Panahon” to see Alden Richards and Maine “Yaya Dub” Mendoza perform together with the De Explorer sisters and the entire Dabarkads. Unfortunately, one of your friends is seated five rows away from the rest of your group. You need to tell her something, but due to the huge crowd, it’s very difficult to send a text message, and you can’t get a 3G signal — or even just a GPRS connection.

In both situations, FireChat can help you.

FireChat, a smartphone software for iOS and Android developed by a California-based company called Open Garden, lets you chat with people near you even without Internet connection. It uses the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi radios of our cellphones to connect directly with one another. In this “off-the-grid” mode, messages will travel up to 70 meters (210 feet) from one phone to the next.

When there are more than two FireChat users in the area, an off-the-grid network is formed. This is called a peer-to-peer mesh network. It allows messages to travel from one phone to another. The networks gets better as more users join.

FireChat’s mesh network powers Marikina’s disaster-proof communications network, which is used by the community to share information, including early warning messages. Reportedly the first of its kind in the world, Marikina’s FireChat-powered network is expected to work even when communication services have been damaged during disasters.

When connected to the Internet, FireChat allows you to exchange messages with people near you, as well as with those who are also online from any other part of the world. Of course, you also need Internet connection to download FireChat at getfirechat.com.

After installing FireChat, you will be asked to create your profile. You may then follow other users. (Look for me using the “Discover people on FireChat” link on the Contacts tab. My username is ederic). The app’s third tab is called Chatrooms: #Nearby shows messages from people near you, while #Everyone shows messages sent by all other FireChat users. You may move to other chatrooms by clicking on a hashtag in any message. In FireChat, a hashtag works as a link to a chatroom. You may also create your own chatroom by typing a hashtag in any message that you post. Among the chatrooms I created are #GMANews (firech.at/GMANews) and #AlDub (firech.at/AlDub).

FireChat used to allow users to send only public messages. It eventually allowed private messaging that works on both off-the-grid and online modes. You may send a private message or a private group message by going to the “Private Messages” tab and tapping on the compose message icon on the top right of the screen. You may also send a private message to another user by tapping the “Send Message” button on his or her profile.

Recently, while I was at a coffee shop with one of my cousins, I told him to try FireChat. He downloaded the app on his iPhone using a data connection. After he installed it and created his profile, I sent him a private message. We then turned off our data connection, but we kept our phones’ Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on. We then started exchanging off-the-grid private messages, and we also posted public messages which showed up on the Nearby chatroom.

You and your barkada should also try it, and then share your first FireChat experience here.