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2019 Galaxy Watch LTE VS. 2014 Samsung Gear S LTE

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So, in five years, what’s the improvement in the real world performance?  What’s the sum of five years of technological advancements in every field from Samsung?

Just a brief rundown of why I am still in love with the Samsung Gear S from 2014:  Firstly, it has an actual physical sim card slot so you could arrive in Puerto Rico, toss in a Claro card and be up and running in seconds.  Secondly, the curved amoled screen is beautiful and big enough to have a full swype / swiftkey qwerty keyboard and be able to type very easily rather than returning to the T9 tap tap tap keyboard of the Galaxy Watch. Also, the Gear S can install Opera Mini browser for full screen web viewing. With 4G, 3G, 2.5G, Wifi, bluetooth… you can get enough speed to communicate with email, facebook, twitter, text messages, and interface with a raspberry Pi Gotenna gateway or a Sonnet Labs mesh device.  The Gear S can be made to run Android Wear, Samsung Tizen, fullblown Android 5.0 or Cyanogen Mod (CM) 12.1… It is a very versatile device and rugged enough to survive post-Maria Puerto Rico. Water-resistant and dust-resistant means it can stay on in the shower and survive the playa.

 

The Galaxy Watch is pretty solid little guy. My understanding is that it is waterproof, dustproof, boasts a 4 day battery life, has 4G, 3G, Wifi, bluetooth, and NFC. But, it’s a TINY little screen. No on-screen keyboard. No physical sim card. Instead, it’s locked down with an eSim internally. There doesn’t seem to be Opera mini web-browser in the samsung app store.  But, it is more rugged, updated processor, SOC, baseband, memory, screen, and with a louder speaker.

Down to the tests:

I setup the Gear S to call the Galaxy Watch using 4G LTE only, everything else off.  After 30 minutes, the 2019 Galaxy Watch (46mm) gave up the ghost and overheated. The Gear S from 2014 was still fully functional.  After a half-hour phonecall, both devices were at 75% battery.  Identical battery draw?

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A thirty minute phonecall in the shade, during winter, at 66 degrees ambient, with screen and every other radio off, no background apps, was enough to get the brand NEW from the box, 2019, Galaxy Watch to overheat, automatically shut down the radios and enter airplane and low power mode?

 

I reestablished the call several times, each time, the Galaxy Watch overheated (both in exactly the same environment).

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At one point, during winter, with the air conditioning on full, I was able to get the Galaxy Watch to hold the call for a little over an hour in the shade before it overheated.  Ultimately, the Gear S was able to do, in sum, 1 hour and 47 minutes of telephone calls to the Galaxy Watch’s 1 hour 44 minutes before the Galaxy Watch 2019 46mm (big battery) shut down.  The Gear S still had about 2% battery.  So, if phone calls and 4G data is important to you, the Gear S is the winner. This surprises me a lot. Has Samsung done nothing in five years?

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In contrast, where the Galaxy Watch shine, powering up wifi, and watching Youtube, the Gear S was dead in about an hour, whereas the Galaxy Watch was still going.  I fell asleep waiting for her to die. But, I would extrapolate the Galaxy Watch as being able to survive for about 2 hours streaming youtube over wifi.  If circular display, youtube watching, and scuba diving are in your future, the Galaxy Watch is a great device.

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For me, in humanitarian missions after a hurricane, being able to rapidly deploy, hit the ground with BOTH a CDMA (Sprint / Verizon) device and a GSM (ATT / Tmobile) device to provide meta signal diversity and double my likelihood of a usable comms signal is important.  The Galaxy Watch will be a pain activating the sim (you literally NEED a second, working device, downloading an app, and a data signal to establish comms). While the Gear S has a beautiful, little nano sim slot (all while maintaining water-resistance).

 

In stark contrast to the Galaxy Watch, the Gear S can just have any sim plugged in and be off and running.  Being able to access advanced messaging with receipt confirmation for group comms like facebook messenger on the Gear S is very helpful… and without a native facebook / twitter / signal / whatsapp / gotenna app, a web browser like Opera Mini is ESSENTIAL. Also, the flexibility of being able to pull the sim card from the watch and plug it into a phone interchangeably is very helpful.  If you have the device running full android or CM, you should be able to get the Signal, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, and /orGotenna Apps to allow direct backup device mesh communications if all the towers are down.

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I WISH Samsung would release an updated unlocked Gear S with BIG rectangular curved amoled screen with a full on-screen keyboard (swype/swiftkey) and a physical external SIM card slot bringing to bear all of their advancements in processor, baseband, battery, and waterproofing and embodying them in a nice new watch for geeks.  But until then, the most powerful smartwatch still is the 2014 Samsung Gear S.

View story at Medium.com

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Join Your Local ARES, RACES, or MARS! We need your help before hurricane season.

Please Join your local Ares, Races, or Mars groups to help and seek help when SHTF

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As we have seen time and again recently, iphones, celltowers, landlines, do not always just magically work. Especially as we go into 5G, there will be mass disruptions of access to emergency services and first responders. Satellite phones and data do not work during the worst of the storm. Hell, even first responders may have no means to communicate. When SHTF, as we saw in Puerto Rico, Houston, Panama City, Mexico Beach, the ONLY operable backup communications system is long / medium range ham radio.  If your org does not have a backup comms plan, as seen in Puerto Rico, especially, you cannot coordinate multiple independent volunteer VOAD, NVOADS, NGOs, and government agencies at Fed, State, Local, and tribal levels, let alone across dissimilar military branch comms structures. There’s no other unifed comms device that lets community actually interact with national guard, coast guard life flights, civilian air patrol, hospitals, police, air force medevac and logistics, Navy floating hospitals, shelters, churches, EOCs, CERT, Brace, Red Cross, or local mayors, governors, fema, dhs, cbp, and others in an actual national emergency.  There’s nothing. They are all on dissimilar frequencies with dissimilar encryption and security protocols. This is by design. BUT it imperils us when everything else fails.  There must be some way to get ALL of these stakeholders to communicate easily, effectively, in an auditable ICS/NIMS compliant manner.

So what’s the best we got? At present, Amateur Radio Emergency Services volunteer VOADs … but these are old souls with dwindling numbers. We need new blood. We had previously only really used FCC certified ham radio operators, but we need to expand. We need to include, more generally, ANYONE from the community to help with and prepare for emergency comms. We could really use your help. Please consider joining Ares, Races, (or Mars if you are military). Towns and counties across America need your help – especially during winter blizzards and preparing for next hurricane season.

Even if you don’t have your FCC technician license, we can use you.  Help your community? If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or email CatSignal.US@gmail.com below.  In the meantime, if you don’t have your ham license, you can still use smaller, tactical comms units like FRS/GMRS/MURS/GoTenna/MotoT800 / Sonnet Mesh, even CB to help ARES coordinate disaster response and recovery and gateway / digipeter between ham and unlicensed bands /devices. Some of these, like Gotenna even have civtak, ATAK team assault/awareness kit, blue team tracking, or APRS-like functionality, digipeter, TNC, Kiss, @mobilinkd with HIPAA-level encryption, 1 to 1, groups, or public broadcast and reception receipt.  Winlink still has its place, but for short comms hospital & shelter to EOC, Gotenna / talkabout moto t800 / sonnet mesh / beartooth / devices are not bad.

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Published by jollymonsails

Intellectual Property Attorney, Geek, Pro Bono Publico voluntario View all posts by jollymonsails

http://instagram.com/jollymonsails

http://meshrescue.net

http://catsignal.US

Catsignal.US@gmail.com

http://CircleOfCompassion.US

http://arrl.org/sections

http://gotenna.com

http://imeshyou.com

#imeshyou #gotennaMesh #Gotenna #MeshNetwork #Mesh #MeshNetwork

View story at Medium.com

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On the Freedoms and Responsibilities Of Civic Speech

What is spam? Clearly someone who repeatedly sends solicitous messages for their own financial benefit is a spammer.  But, is a user who seeks to shed light on fraud in a public forum, addressed to public officials, towards the public welfare, and regarding public infrastructure / disaster readiness a spammer?

The First Amendment lays out several sacrosanct, inalienable relevant positive rights enjoyed by all Americans:

  • The right to unabridged freedom of speech;
  • The right to freedom of the press;
  • The right to petition government for the redress of grievances; and
  • The right to peaceable assembly.

There are limitations though. Can one utter fighting words that might imminently breach the peace or shout “fire” in a crowded theater? No.  Can one lie, falsely advertise, or commit fraud for their own commercial benefit? No.

First Amendment jurisprudence provides speech which is primarily commercial much less protection than other speech.  My speech is honest, truthful, regarding public concerns, motivated by love and my oath to provide for the public welfare and common defense, and addressed to public entities funded by taxpayer funds.

Some have said that I’ve been spamming my concerns about Gotenna and Twilio.  I’m not invested in either company or their competitors. My concern and sole motivation is to further the collective public interest in a strong communications infrastructure so that the next time a hurricane or disaster strikes, the people of Puerto Rico, my mother, perhaps your mother, and other Americans will have backup communications options firmly in place to reach out and ask for help.  I have no financial interest in this whatsoever.

So far, Gotenna and Twilio have dismissed my concerns, ignored my questions, labelled me a troll, blocked all of my accounts, deleted accounts on their forum and banned them for 1000 years; deleted threads and posts asking earnest questions; gotten my Twitter  and Facebook accounts suspended; threatened lawsuits; and offered me a $1000 to be quiet.

Is this the behavior of a company you would trust with your communications and maintaining your privacy?

I have only two asks:

(1) Will Gotenna and/or Twilio put best-efforts to enabling 911  / 112 / 999 access via their sms relay or Emergency SOS features?  ALL 78 municipalities of Puerto Rico are ready, willing, and able to receive text 911 messages.  FCC has required this since 2014- but still no movement on the part of Gotenna / Twilio.

(2) Will Gotenna and/or PR Reconnects live up to the promises of their fundraiser (fully funded in 2017) to provide an emergency backup communications network of “300” gotenna mesh comms devices to Puerto Rico? Will Gotenna provide the necessary connection to hospitals as called for before next hurricane season?

If either of these are important to you, please kindly ask @gotenna @pr_reconnects @javierMBGJ (Javier Malave) or @twilio (Jeff Lawson) for input on whichever platform you prefer.  support@gotenna.com

If you disagree with me or have suggestions on how to better achieve this, please consider letting me know why/how below or sharing your thoughts or advice here or via email privately at catsignal.us@gmail.com

The proof is in the pudding.  This clearly is not the 300 gotenna emergency backup communications units that the fundraiser called for and they are not satellite sms backhauled to the local hospitals or policia.  Ignoring 911 “Emergency SOS” messages when they could be quite readily delivered to any of the thousands of e911 ng911 text911 or text-to-911 PSAP centers is playing Russian roulette with innocent peoples’ lives with a blindfold on.

Quit the #BirdBoxChallenge ing Gotenna, Twilio, open your eyes. By refusing to allow 911, and discarding emergency SOS messages, you are creating an inherently dangerous situation.

Isn’t it our duty to shed light and to speak truth?

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Why Grandma Can’t Reach 911 if she gets run over by a reindeer on Christmas Eve: A story of ducks and chickenshits.

On The Nature Of Ducks (and Title II “information service” providers):

What is a common carrier?

What does the First Amendment have to do with common carriers?

What is estoppel (e.g., collateral estoppel, equitable estoppel… etc.)?

If someone walks, talks, and acts like a duck, and argues in front of the FCC and courts that they are a duck, aren’t they a duck?

Should a company seeking profit be able to argue that they are a duck in court when it benefits them but then, with the same mouth, argue vociferously that they aren’t a duck when it doesn’t suit them for legal purposes?

Believe someone when they show you who they are.

What do Amazon Alexa, Google Home, Gotenna, Twilio, and others all have in common? They all want to make money.  Accordingly, they provide services that enrich them and incidentally, we are all provided with a service.  Amazon Alexa is a great example.  From our perspective, we pay some amount ($19 – $149) and get a gadget that does things for us.  But what’s the real purpose behind Amazon Alexa from Amazon’s perspective? Where do they really make their money?

Similarly, Gotenna makes a product (e.g., Gotenna Mesh) ostensibly to connect people on the fringes of conventional communications coverage (hiking, sailing, ….) for emergency communications, and the like.

As a responsible care-taker of parents, at some point, if we are good children, then we’ll all need to face the reality that sometimes our elderly may need to reach out for help and we won’t be there to help them.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get our seniors an Amazon Alexa, a Google Home, a Gotenna device and even if the celltowers fall, even if our parent falls and can’t reach the phone, they still have a fighting chance to get help?

The WSJ lays out an instance where an elderly lady fell and couldn’t get up, couldn’t reach her phone and tried to use Alexa to call 911 for help.  In my experience, my mother had her cable, power, telephone, and internet lines cut by a freak accident days before a hurricane hit her taking out her cell phone tower.  In another experience, a girl at Burning Man, out in the middle of the desert (with no cell signal) suffered third degree burns and couldn’t get help.

What’s the common thread?

911 access. There are many instances where we may need to ask for help… and sometimes we can’t simply pickup the phone to dial 911.  Home invasions, active shooters, domestic violence, infrastructural failures, deaf / HOH / elderly / children … to name a few.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a simple way to send a message to our first-responders or others in the community better situated to help without needing to use our voice, without relying on only one telecommunications service? Don’t we want a 911 service that is robust, intelligent, flexible? Don’t we want to provide backup channels to get the message out?  Isn’t, or shouldn’t, our goal be to promote the strongest, most capable, most accessible 911 service for our weakest members of society?

The FCC believes this to be true.

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So why am I blabbering about Gotenna?

Gotenna is the only reliable, accessible, inexpensive backup communications system that presently exists for 2019.  What about ham radio? It’s definitely good, but it requires an FCC license, study, an exam, and a fee.  Is it idiot proof? Would you feel safe leaving your Grandmother with a ham radio and being sure she’ll find the right channel and effectively get a message out?  Gotenna, on the other hand, serves as its own cell tower and local repeater. All in a package the size of a lighter and only $50 on ebay.  Gotenna Mesh uniquely broadcasts a loved one’s cry for help even when every other avenue of communications is down.  Gotenna sends out the message and if any other Gotenna within miles does have any form of service, it can relay the message out to the telephone network.  Which is great! Except that, for some reason, it will not forward the message to 911.  Any other number in the world can be reached, but for some reason, Gotenna will not allow 911 emergency messages.  Digging deeper, Gotenna relies on a cloud-based IP to telephone service provider, Twilio, and Twilio squarely forbids any emergency messages. Why is this?

So what other options are there? Well, Amazon Alexa and Google Home would be great! All she needs to say is “Alexa, call 911.” Unless well-meaning legislation or administrative rules created a disincentive from Amazon or Google providing 911 access (as is presently the case).

Tens of thousands of 911 PSAP call centers covering our biggest cities are ready, willing, and able to accept text 911 messages.  Sure, there’s more work to do to expand coverage out to our poorest counties and states… but text-to-911 is a mature service providing a last line of defense to tens of millions of Americans.

So, why won’t Amazon, Google, Twilio, Gotenna put the last brick in place to enable our loved ones to reach out for help?

Could it be that Amazon, Google, Twilio, Gotenna, and others truly don’t care about Americans? About saving lives? About providing an avenue for help?

Have their lawyers determined that it simply isn’t worth the risk? and having to contribute minuscule fees to 911 centers?

While Twilio does provide sms delivery services for Gotenna, their primary and most lucrative business is automating commercial text delivery (robotexts) marketing or advertising products or political candidates.  To these ends they’ve argued time and again in front of the FCC that text messages are an inalienable First Amendment Free Speech right.  They’ve argued that telecommunications services and providers are mere common carriers – obliged to dutifully deliver whatever they’ve been entrusted with (parcels, letters, telephone calls, and text messages).  Any attempts to interfere with Twilio’s text messages (such as  Verizon saving Grandma from a million annoying “spam” robotexts) would violate their First Amendment rights to have the message dutifully delivered without interference.  Thus, Twilio feels that they are, by extension, common carriers as well, a dutiful mailman, that neither deliberates or is unfaithful, but merely delivers the messages come rain, snow, sleet, or hail.  Twilio makes no judgment calls on hate speech, Nazi propaganda, child porn, fraudulent scam texts, they just deliver the message… UNLESS that message is a cry for help, a desperate message sent to 911. And in that case, Twilio, Gotenna, Amazon, Google, and others, argue that hey, we aren’t a telecommunications provider, we aren’t a common carrier, we are something new, tertium quid and the rules shouldn’t apply to us and we shouldn’t have to chip in towards community 911 access fees.

So if Twilio walks, talks, and acts like a duck (and argues in front of the FCC that they are a duck in Court)… shouldn’t we treat them like a duck? Hopefully, Twilio, Google, Amazon, and Gotenna will start doing the right thing and providing 911 access.  How can we help them with suitable rule-making / tweaking / cutting red tape / deregulating to avoid creating a perverse dis-incentive to new “information service” providers from offering basic community emergency access? Aren’t they estopped from arguing that they aren’t telecommunications providers?

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Is Gotenna Mesh Dead?

Has Gotenna corporate killed Gotenna Mesh in its endless chase of profits over people? It’s now been almost 5 months since any updates to the Gotenna Mesh app on Android Play store.  The USB software developers kit (SDK) is almost 4 months overdue. It’s been more than a year since Gotenna defaulted on their promises to build a critical backbone of hundreds of Gotenna Mesh Devices in Puerto Rico to connect the hundreds of thousands in the central mountainous regions hardest hit in the hurricanes.

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While 6 months without an update may be reasonable in some instances, critical vulnerabilities were unveiled at DefCon 26 by @Recompiler which basically pwned Gotenna devices. He was able to leak location data from sophisticated developers that didn’t even have a Gotenna device on them – showing us where they liked to eat lunch in both San Francisco and Brooklyn.  He was able to take advantage of encryption implementation flaws, rendering communications public. He was able to show a man in the middle and impersonation attacks.  And there’s been no update.

More concerning, Gotenna has offered no updates or statements on the girl who almost died at Burning Man back in August after naively relying, to her detriment, on the Gotenna SOS Emergency broadcast / beacon mode.  No statement has been made or any switch from Twilio to an sms backhaul provider that will allow Gotenna Plus Sms Relay (R) to text 911 services.  Nothing has been done to address the problem that the five-click SOS mode may not have accurate GPS location.  Nothing has been done to address backhaul to emergency services / 911 / 999 / GEOS.  Nothing has been done to address the security vulnerabilities demonstrated at DefCon.  And nothing has been done with respect to Puerto Rico.

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In stark contrast, Gotenna has put all of their efforts into a wholly incompatible Gotenna-Pro model (which operates on 140 MHz vhf and 440 MHz uhf) which is wholly unable to respond, receive, or relay gotennaMesh emergency SOS messages (902-928MHz ISM band).  In spite of the fact that it’s a software defined radio with modular antenna.

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GotennaPro android app was updated in November.  GotennaPRO usb SDK was released months ago to private operators? But no updates for Gotenna Mesh or release of SDK. GotennaPro employees FINALLY are in Puerto Rico range-testing with drones and helos to relay messsages from Orocovis to Bayamon to San Juan!?! While this is a very good sign, it’s somewhat disheartening that only now, a year after we did our own range tests and proof of concepts and started implementing a Gotenna Mesh network, that we are recreating the wheel but with a GotennaPro technology that our families, communities, and volunteers are not even legally allowed to use.  Moreover, the Gotenna Pro takes up to FIVE TIMES as much power and TEN TIMES ($499) the expense of the Gotenna Mesh unit.  When the towers fall again, our abuelas won’t be able to afford or keep these things powered.  Gotenna Pro does nothing for our communities – instead, it’s a return to centralized infrastructure in the hands of the government alone.  With millions in funding from the federal government, hundreds of thousands of Gotenna Mesh devices sold to consumers, and tens of thousands of dollars in public donations for the Puerto Rico Gotenna Mesh backup network, surely we can do better.  Stakeholders deserve a public commitment to the Gotenna Mesh technology not a bait-and-switch scam selling us a 10x more expensive version that no one can use, that renders Gotenna Mesh the same as a BetaMax (and that can’t even receive calls for help from our communities).

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If (being charitable) PR Reconnects, Javier Malave, PR Science and Trust, Starting Point, et al., built-up 20 some Gotenna Mesh relays around San Juan, some in Barranquitas, Toa Alta, Bayamon, and Naguabo, why would we now switch to Gotenna Pro which is 10x more expensive, requires 5x more power, and is wholly incompatible with this build-out already in progress? The mere fact that they are more profitable to Gotenna shouldn’t assuage our concerns but should enrage our passions! Where are the hundreds of Gotenna Mesh that were promised to Puerto Rico? They certainly aren’t on the imeshyou.com map over a year after funding was fully raised by the community.  Where are the tens of thousands of dollars we donated?

GOTENNAMESH  A good start, but hardly the 300 Gotenna Mesh units promised to Puerto Rico

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Ham Radio, A Lost Art On The Verge Of Extinction? And A Possible Remedy:

Amateur Radio is on the brink of extinction.  As we lose these courageous souls, we are missing the opportunity to share knowledge with the next generation.  Ham radio clubs are dwindling in numbers – having only aging, gray beard members – and largely only men.  How do we reinvigorate this society? How do we get the general public interested in communications when they have a false sense of security with their iPhones?

We need to remove the barriers to entry and make it welcoming to new members curious about emergency communications in general terms (not limited to licensed ham radio).  There’s a sort of elitism and a myopic focus on FCC licensed long-range HF operation and hundred to thousand dollar rigs.  However, this is too esoteric and does not welcome noobs.  Instead, we must all be Elmers and share the spectrum of options, teaching the general public simple things they can do and encouraging those who are interested to focus more. We must be welcoming to everyone in the community and help them learn options available with even a passing interest – acknowledging that not everyone is going to take the FCC tests or ICS / NIMS certifications.  Instead, how can we welcome everyone and at least share pointers on how they can maximize their chances of survival in a disaster with near zero preparation and tens of dollars, not hundreds.  Let’s face it, most people do not prepare in advance – instead they react only at the last minute when the storm is on the horizon or after the earthquake.  Most people won’t spend $200 for their first radio.

At every amateur radio meeting, club, hamfest, field-day I’ve been to, there’s an elitism that pushes the average person away (What’s your callsign? What level of certification do you have? What gear do you have?). People do not feel comfortable here.  If we are to survive, we need to make our clubs, meetings, hamfest, and field days more accessible to the public, less esoteric, less mystical.  We need to style our meetings as e.g., Emergency or Disaster of Off-Grid Communications.  We need to focus on the outdoor community (hikers, sailors, campers, burners), preppers, off-grid enthusiasts, activists, veterans, volunteers, but also on everyday families worried about how to call for help when the tower falls or how to reach each other at medium to intermediate distances (from work to school to home).  We need to stop sneering at people with bubble-wrap walkies and instead welcome them into the fold as one layer of communications.  As they learn, they will see the limitations and seek better options like ham or mesh technologies.

As we see over and over again, when disaster strikes, the towers fall and the ubiquitous iPhone / wifi infrastructure fails us.  So how can we communicate without towers or in a degraded capacity? What options are out there to get information and/or share information in the event of a disaster without classes or licensure? What could work and what are the limitations? Well, several options may exist depending on your situation:

Call 911 Different phones have different service providers and different frequency bands.  For a simplified example, Verizon and Sprint are generally CDMA, while ATT and Tmobile are generally GSM – and they are generally incompatible.  But, if you have a global phone or an unlocked device, you may be able to access any tower in a 911 call – not just your particular carrier.  While you may not be able to get a signal to call family/friends or access data, you might still be able to call 911.  In an emergency, your phone (depending on model) may be able to use ANY compatible tower to call 911 (even if you don’t have a sim card or active subscription with that carrier).  Dig out your old cellphones and charge them.  Get to an elevated position and try to call 911 with each phone in succession. At the fringes of reception, your head may block reception, so try facing one direction, and then try facing another direction (i.e., 180 degrees opposite).

SMS / Text messages  at the most basic level, when the towers haven’t all fallen, but they are merely too congested to support live bi-directional voice or 4G data, you may still be able to send a text / simple message service (sms) message (but these may be delayed and/or lost).  Ask for confirmation and assume that it didn’t go through.  Some counties and bigger cities have text 911 service.  If you can’t call, if calling puts you in danger, or if you are hard of hearing, you may be able to reach emergency services by texting 911 (as a last resort).  If your county does not offer this, you should get a bounce-back text message informing you that it did not go through.  If you are experiencing a home invasion or active shooter situation, you may want to silence your ringer before texting as the bounceback or further communications with the 911 operator may give you away.  Generally, calling 911 and staying on the line even if you can’t talk is still a better option as the operator will get your location, and be able to prompt you to signal your emergency by pressing a button or some other manner.  Some important things to note: text 911, unlike calling 911 may not work on ANY carrier’s towers and may require an active subscription and sim card – also, 911 centers may not get a precise location from a text and may not be able to receive pictures, audio, video, or even emojis. Some 911 centers report that an emoji might even result in disconnection or misrouting of the emergency message.  Keep it simple, concise, and give your location as best as you can.

SOS mode – Some devices like Apple and Samsung offer an SOS or emergency alert mode (accessed by tapping the power button 5 times or 3 times in the case of Samsung).  It’s important to note that there is nothing magical here, these all rely on voice 911 and/or texts to 3rd parties like loved ones and friends – AND they must be preconfigured in-advance under settings.  This may be very helpful if you are being kidnapped or other situation.  However they may be a double-edged sword… if they use speakerphone to contact 911, the suspect now knows what’s coming.  It’s best to get to know what options you have and how the alert feature works before you are in an actual emergency. The newest Apple watch even has a feature that detects a fall and may automatically act to get help based on your detected biometrics.  This may be helpful in a heart-attack or epileptic seizure type situation.

Wifi/3G- (e.g., Whatsapp / Facebook Messenger / Signal / Zello*) –   If you don’t have cellular, but you can find a working wifi signal, perhaps you may be able to use a data-based message service like facebook messenger, twitter, signal, whatsapp… often-times, buried lines (like fiber optics) may still survive.  It is important to ask for confirmation or check that the message was received.  However, without working cellular data or wifi, these communication methods will not work.

Wired Landline phone – many homes nowadays use wireless phones (which require power for the basestation) and/or use voice over ip (VOIP) piggybacking over your broadband home internet connection.  These may not work in a power outage.  However, some services have a backup battery that may keep your broadband router working for a short time after the power has gone out.  If this does not work, you may be able to connect an old, wired phone to a copper jack at the point of entry to the home and still call 911.

Visual Semaphores  – If all else fails, in a widespread disaster, you may be able to write/paint on your driveway or roof to ask for help.  If you are at sea or in a military area, you may be able to signal for help using morse code. A very simple dot dot dot dash dash dash dot dot dot (…—…) where dot (.) is a relatively brief signal and dash (-) is a relatively longer signal means SOS and may bring help.  If you are visible, you may outstretch your arms, raising them and lowering them from your sides.  Continuously holding your vehicle horn or actuating in three round bursts.  A makeshift mirror can be used to signal aircraft overhead.  Get creative.

Satellite Devices – whereas terrestrial communications may fail or be overwhelmed, satellite communications devices will generally still work during most emergencies.  It is important to note that in most situations they will NOT WORK out of the box, but instead must be registered with active internet or telephone service before use.  Most require not only an initial registration, but also an active subscription.  Prices are falling like crazy though.  Two recent models, e.g., Garmin InReach Explorer ($450ish) or the Spot-X device ($250) provide for text like messages (BUT NOT VOICE) and rudimentary access to social media and do not require a year-long based subscription, but allow for seasonal activation or month to month service (about $14 a month).  This may be a very attractive option if you are in a hurricane area provided that you set this up in advance.

Mesh Network /Adhoc software (e.g., BridgeFy, FireChat, AirDrop…) – unfortunately, these options only work at VERY SHORT RANGE – ranges that a loud yell might work better and more reliably than these options.  However, if you are in a very populous area such as a university dorm, hospital, senior center, or disaster shelter, these options may work if you need to keep in touch at very short distances (e.g. 100m).  The cool thing is that if you get everyone to install it, then each device acts as a repeater and the messages can relay amongst your community to get much better range.  The downside to this is that they must generally be installed and registered before you lose connection to the outside world.  If you search for, e.g., BridgeFy or Firechat “.apk” you may be able to download an offline installation file that you could share with a memory stick, memory card, wifi hotspot or via bluetooth or airdrop to share with your friends.  This is important because, while you may have very sporadic internet (maybe not enough to support multiple megabyte installations from the play store) you may have enough to register the device.  But, like every thing, you should practice use before it’s needed to understand its limitations.

Mesh Network hardware (e.g., Gotenna, Sonnet Labs, …) – unlike the software approach, these devices are starting to bear fruit, Gotenna for example is widely deployed (see for example their user-generated map at http://imeshyou.com ) and offers great range, technically line of sight – but more realistically .6 miles in a noisy urban environment, 2-4 miles in the country, or up to 69 miles with creative elevation.  At the size of a highlighter this can be velcroed to a drone, elevated up to 400 feet in the air and given some serious distance.  Each Gotenna acts as a signal repeater meaning that your message can hop up to six times rebroadcasting and extending your range by cooperative re-transmission with users in your community.  Applications like TxTenna / Samourai wallet even allow bitcoin transmissions without access to the outside world.  Gliderlink offers tactical mapping and coordination. Mesh Developers toolkit offers internet backhaul, scripting, beacon services. And a 30 day free trial of Gotenna Plus offers SMS relay meaning that even if you don’t have service, you can relay a text message through any other gotenna device nearby out to the outside world to anyone with a cellphone.  Unlike the software mesh options, Gotenna allows offline installations with the .apk file and does not require registration before use.  At about $50 each, this is becoming a very attractive option for offline, license-free communication.

Walkie Talkies (e.g., FRS, GMRS, MURS…) – Walkie Talkies are available at nearly every store such as walmart, target, best buy, REI… and they may work for your group or family provided that you will remain in very close proximity to each other.  They likely will not have the power or ubiquity to get outside help – but they may work up to a quarter of a mile away (depending on terrain and noise).  GMRS is better than FRS. But any device purchased in haste without research likely will only transmit at a fraction of a watt.  MURS devices are relatively new and may have longer range, but will generally be expensive and you may not be able to reach out for help from others outside your group.

Citizens’s Band (CB) – CB has potential for long range communications depending on your setup but will work particularly well near interstate highways.

Marine Band – Marine band has potential for medium distance communications depending on your setup but will generally only work well at reaching others near navigable waterways.

Ham Radios (HF, VHF, UHF…)  – ham radios have the greatest potential to reach the greatest number of people at the greatest ranges possible, but generally require an FCC license to use.  The most basic level (Technician) is very easy to pass but will require a day or so of study depending on your level of familiarity with basic electronics.  Unfortunately, the Technicians license only allows operation of VHF/UHF radios which generally only have a local (e.g. several miles range) but if repeaters are available in your area this may allow communications up to about 30 miles.  Note that these repeaters towers are generally lowered during a hurricane and may not survive extended power outages.  For longer distance communications, using HF (relatively low frequencies that bounce off of the atmosphere and can travel hundreds to thousands of miles) you will need to pass the intermediate (General) level of FCC licensure.  This is not very difficult with several days or weeks of study.

NOAA Weather / FM Radio* – While this only allows you to receive information and not send messages, a NOAA radio may be setup to give you an alert using the FM radio towers which tend to be more resilient and have broader range than celltowers.  The Next Radio app (free) allows you to unlock many phones to receive FM broadcasts even if the celltowers and wifi are down, using a pair of headphones or an aux cable as an antenna.

*This will be updated shortly – but I wanted to give a rough idea for a syllabus of other options that may be more inclusive than merely ham/amateur radio options.  Local amateur radio groups may want to consider a radically inclusive meeting / event that seeks to bring in ANY member of the community concerned about communication options available to them in the event of a disaster / emergency to help their families and neighbors.  This discussion may provide a nice segue to the enhanced benefits of HF and ham radio once they see the shortcomings with just an iphone or just a UHF/VHF BaoFeng.