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IBM helped create an Android weather app that sends alerts without a cell network

IBM helped to develop a new Android version of the Weather Channel app that can send out alerts to phones without the need for a cellular network.

Published onFebruary 16, 2017

Many people in developing countries own smartphones, but don’t always have access to reliable wireless connections. That’s a problem when they may just need them to get alerts for emergencies. This week, IBM announced it has developed a new version of the Weather Channel Android app for those markets, what makes it so special? It can send emergency alerts to smartphones without the need for a cellular connection.

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You may not be aware, but IBM actually acquired The Weather Company, the home of The Weather Channel cable TV network and the creators of the Weather Channel app, in 2016. Since then, the company claims it has made extra efforts to extend its weather forecasts and alerts to more mobile users worldwide. One of of those efforts is the use of Mesh Network Alerts technology to sent notifications to smartphones in certain markets.

IBM said that by using these mesh networks, emergency alerts can be sent to smartphones on its Weather Channel app via peer-to-peer connections, instead of a cellular network:

Usually, a government-issued message is broadcast via cell tower to all devices within its range. When that network goes down, however, so does the ability to send alerts. Peer-to-peer technology converts mobile devices into links within the mesh network, allowing devices to “talk” directly to each other without using cell tower infrastructure. Each smartphone becomes a node that stores the message and passes it to the next nearest device, creating a daisy chain to reach more devices and remove the need for a cellular network.

This technology does not turn smartphones into mobile hotspots, according to IBM, because that causes too much battery drain. It still uses phones that connect with Bluetooth or WiFi to send those alerts out.

The new version of the Android Weather Channel app that supports these mesh network alerts is already available to download in 42 countries from the Google Play Store. In addition, IBM has worked to cut down the download file size of this app to just 3.2 MB, while still providing full weather data, forecasts, and notifications, along with the ability to store weather data offline for up to 24 hours. The app is also been designed to launch and load quickly even on slower 3G and 2G cellular connections.

The ability for smartphones to still work even when solid cellular connections are not available seems to be a growing trend. Just today, the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, said he would like to see more smartphone companies activate the often hidden FM radio hardware inside. While he doesn’t want the US government to mandate that kind of feature in phones, Pai said it would let consumers get emergency alerts if their local cell tower was not working.

Would you like more apps and features on your phone that worked even without a cellular connection for emergencies? Let us know where you stand in the comments!