LAS VEGAS—IBM announced a peer-to-peer communications ability for its Watson-driven Weather Channel app (acquired last year) at its PartnerWorld Leadership Conference this week.
Existing smartphones using its free updated app will be able to keep abreast of weather developments even in emergencies when the Internet and cellular networks are down. It works by forming a peer-to-peer mesh network conduit to the Weather Channel using WiFi or Bluetooth.
The peer-to-peer mesh network is designed to be especially useful in developing countries, where cellular coverage is spotty. Every time a user wanders beyond the range of his or her country’s existing cellular towers, the WiFi (or Bluetooth if WiFi is not available) transmitter in their handset searches for the nearest user who is within range of the tower. That phone then acts as a hotspot, transmitting the Weather Channel content to the out-of-range peer. Simultaneously, the peer's phone itself becomes a hotspot for users even further away from the main tower.
As users travel further and further from the nearest tower, their phones form a mesh network of hotspots serving phones further and further away, thus filling in the gap between towers. And in the event of total tower failure, a complete WiFi peer-to-peer network will form with the Weather Channel's own WiFi tower as the originator of broadcasts.
Weather conditions, such as temperature, as well as disasters warnings, like tsunamis, come through using peer-to-peer communications among The Weather Company apps even when the Internet and cell towers are down. SOURCE: IBM
Ordinarily, this sort of peer-to-peer network (using Wi-Fi Peer-to-Peer) would not work for general usage, because it would run down the batteries of the peers in constant hot-spot mode. But IBM has confined the hotspot usage to small, short bursts of low-bit-rate information ‐ just enough to update the essential data, such as temperature, precipitation and maps, plus emergency warnings such as "tsunami" estimated time of arrival (ETA). As a result, the users’ battery life should not be adversely affected, especially since the bursts use less energy than a normal online cellular connection.
Called "Mesh Network Alerts," the services will first be available in 42 developing countries which are in the greatest need because of scant distribution of cell towers ‐ spotty-at-best outside of urban environments and congested within urban environments. IBM also claims that peer-to-peer is a better solution than drones or balloons since it is here today. Also, instead of becoming congested with more users, mesh networks actually work better with more users by offering multiple routes to the same information.
IBM's peer-to-peer network technology for cell phones spreads the word on weather conditions even in disasters situations when both the cellular network and Internet are down.
The Weather Channel app itself is just 3.2 megabytes (launching in seconds even on 2G networks), small enough for any cell phone that runs apps and includes storage for 24 hours of weather data. The only hitch is that you need to load it into your phone before the emergency.
— R. Colin Johnson, Advanced Technology Editor, EE Times
Government could still eavesdrop with local equipment. Of course apps could be using their own encryption. Potentially though this might be a way to avoid a government attempt to close down communications.
Who need to pay carriers when you can communicate peer-to-peer in a state-of-the-art IBM mesh network. Perfect for weather information when the Internet and cell tower are down, but also a way to transmit without being eavesdropped by government agencies.