Having a wealth of up-to-the-minute climate data at our fingertips is something most of us take for granted. Thanks to a reliable cell connection, our smartphones, and the work of hundreds of meteorologists and climatologists around the globe, keeping abreast of an incoming storm isn’t so much a matter of how, but how quickly. Unfortunately, though, that isn’t the case for everyone. A farmer working in the remote village of Kuldhara village of Rajasthan or fisherman working at Malappuram district of Kerala is not so lucky. But thanks to the technology and research. In a series to connect people in such areas having lower connectivity and data availability, IBM and The Weather Company (owned by IBM Business) on 20th march launched the country’s first mobile alerting platform that will deliver weather alerts without the internet. Yes, you read it correctly. IBM and The Weather Company introduced new Mesh Network Alerts technology that provides a mobile method of communicating with underserved populations in developing countries to notify of potential severe weather events or disasters — even in areas with a limited Internet connection, or cellular networks are disrupted due to an outage.
How it works: The power of a peer-to-peer community
In developing countries like India, cellular connectivity is congested, intermittent, and in the worst cases inaccessible. As a result, the ability to alert and inform people during emergency situations is unreliable, which can have dire consequences. Mesh Network Alerts work by linking mobile devices directly to one another, daisy-chaining handsets in a sort of node network. Using a combination of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, each connected smartphone stores and propagates messages to devices within a 300- to a 500-foot radius, creating a mesh that can effectively reach more devices. Peer-to-peer networking has boundless potential for communities and across industries. As part of The Weather Channel app, it can help notify a mother in India before forecasted thunderstorms approach where her children play, or it can inform a small business owner in Peru of incoming heavy rainfall before preparing an inventory.
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. While other mesh networks use hot spotting, IBM and The Weather Company chose not to turn devices into individual access points to avoid excessive battery drain.
Mesh Network Alerts work entirely within the app, using devices connected to Bluetooth or WiFi to communicate with other smartphones nearby that are not connected via data or to a cell network. It works off the grid in remote areas, large crowds or disaster zones, but the scale is crucial. Mobile or Internet signals slow down or stop when more users overload the network, but mesh networks actually improve with more people. At these times, a larger amount of smartphones helps the mesh network move a message along. Individual devices become part of the solution. Other companies are experimenting with drones or balloons to expand connectivity, but IBM offers a solution using devices already in the market on a network already at scale.
“Mesh Network Alerts networking technology is appropriately designed to notify of potential severe weather events or disasters — even in areas with the limited internet connection, or cellular networks are disrupted due to an outage,” said Himanshu Goyal, India Sales and Alliances Leader, The Weather Company, in a statement. “Mesh Network Alerts can help send notification of an upcoming disaster that could help people and their families stay safe. It’s a matter of great pride for us as this technology is first introduced in India,” Goyal added.
“The combination of the innovative Mesh Network Alerts and global reach of The Weather Channel mobile app can help deliver a new level of emergency awareness to underserved populations,” said Bijan Davari, IBM Fellow, and vice president, next generation computing systems and technology, IBM Research. “We’re proud to be able to quickly offer a critical and potentially lifesaving capability to hundreds of millions of people around the world.”
“IBM once again shows its leadership in edge computing capabilities, and this next important milestone will help bring the value of edge compute to life. Mesh Network Alerts extend the ability to receive a potentially lifesaving alert to a global audience, even with limited connectivity,” said Cameron Clayton, general manager and CEO of The Weather Company. “With IBM collaboration, investment and research, we can now reach users in previously underserved areas and better deliver the information they need.”
What more in the box?
Data is precious to users in emerging markets, and a large app can be prohibitively expensive to download. To help customers make decisions and stay safe through all types of weather, this app provides industry-leading weather data, forecasts, and
Since purchasing The Weather Company in 2016, IBM has invested in advancing Weather’s efforts to reach and help keep safe every mobile user on the planet. For example last year, the weather.com site expanded availability to 62 languages, 178 countries and across data availability (4G, 3G, and 2G). The Weather Channel also launched global weather forecast notifications on mobile web to provide severe weather information in areas around the world with limited access to real-time notifications.
The Weather Company weather platform provides information in almost every country and for 2.2 billion locations worldwide. By combining its massive scale, accuracy in weather and location data, and unique alerting capabilities, The Weather Company can help consumers protect themselves when they need it most. By expanding globally, The Weather Company will be able to provide the most actionable weather data to every user, despite location, device, connection or data plan, so citizens everywhere can stay safe and prepared in the face of weather.