Social media is often a go-to for people to get information. The community-wide garage sale or family BBQ updates are great to share in any way you want on whatever app you want. There are social apps that facilitate gathering and group planning.
However, when you need up-to-date information quickly, do you know where to go? We’re providing some options to consider that perform better than many of the standard apps in your phone when cellular service is limited.
Those signal bars mean a lot when seconds count. That’s why the most important consideration for adopting and using apps to communicate during an outage, area with limited service, bad weather, or traffic and road blockages, is if app is “lightweight”.
“The term lightweight is applied to anything that is relatively simpler or faster or that has fewer parts than something else.
“For example, in programming, a lightweight thread is a program thread (an instance of use) that takes fewer instructions to keep track of than an ordinary thread, thus enabling the program to handle more users at the same time at an acceptable performance level. The Lightweight Directory Access Protocol ( LDAP ) enables network directory that is faster than previous directory access protocols.”TechTarget
Believe it or not, the native texting apps on the most popular phones are not the most efficient or reliable for use when you don’t have many bars of service. Fear not! There are alternatives that are faster and more reliable when you need them the most.
Here are a few apps for you to consider.
It’s a lightweight peer-to-peer app for text, voice, video, and photo communications. Voxer defines itself as a “secure, real-time communication in one powerful push-to-talk (PTT) app that works with iPhone, Android, and the web.” You won’t be making traditional calls when you send voice messages, but it’s great for as-you-can-get-to-it communications with family friends, even groups of family and friends.
When Kim Thornton goes to her property in the mountains, she cannot use her phone to make calls or send text. She doesn’t have internet there, so she’s quite limited. Voxer is the one app on her phone she can still use with very week signal.
There’s a free and paid version. Business owners often like the paid version because they can save or access older conversations.
“Speak Freely: Say ‘hello’ to a different messaging experience. An unexpected focus on privacy, combined with all of the features you expect.” The focus of this app is the encryption for secure conversations, whether they be text, voice, video, or photo. Unlike Voxer, Signal does have traditional calling, where when you click to call someone, you get a ring and may hang up if they don’t answer.
This app is completely free for everyone.
While some may rely on Facebook for community information, the Facebook app itself and website are definitely not lightweight. Even on good days, you may notice the platform takes longer than others and other websites to load.
Twitter is built for faster communication among multiple users. When the power is out and cell signal is weak, you can still use Twitter to communicate. Even in large cities, like San Antonio, Twitter has been a lifeline. In the “Deep Freeze” of 2021, much of San Antonio was without power and water. Those with water may not have known for hours that there was a “boil water notice”.
During the freeze of 2020, I was live Tweeting about the boil water notice (I was watching the meeting on Facebook). She heard about it from me a good hour before SAWS tweeted.Bridget Willard
One reply shows exactly where local government fell short and why Twitter was so important.
SATX, I had to find out from @BridgetMWillard on Twitter that we have to boil water. We don’t have electricity or internet! Cell service is so bad that all we can do is text and Twitter for info. Text us alerts!!!Rhonda Negard
Whether or not you want to use the app daily, it’s key during communication outages or disruptions. Cities, businesses, and individuals should use Twitter to share and receive updates on community and emergency issues.
Twitter is free but also has a paid version.
This is a popular app and is also lightweight. Just like Voxer and Signal, you can quickly and easily send text, voice, photo, video, and calls with this app.
While the app’s site claims messages are secure, your device is not. The downside of this app is that some spyware can easily be installed onto your device through the app, even without you clicking on a suspicious message. No clicking exploit, which means no opening of a message or file required for some spyware to access your phone–just by virtue of having the app on your phone or tablet, you’re vulnerable.
You may still want to use this app because your friends and family are more likely to already be using it. We want you to make an informed decision.
What is your emergency plan?
Ham Radio and Police Scanners are commonly used in rural areas, especially for emergencies. But, if you don’t have these, you always have your phone. Even if you do have a ham radio and/or scanner, you could be serving those in the community who do not by reaching out and sharing what you hear on one of these apps.