I wrote this for a small town chamber website client. Most of my clients are in urban areas, but my clients’ clients often live or vacation in rural ares that have such limited signal that they cannot use their phone, at least not the native phone or texting apps. That’s why I decided to repurpose the article to share with you too to help everyone.
Even in an urban area like San Antonio, communication from the city and other officials was limited or very delayed during the big freeze of 2021. Besides facilitating communication for emergencies, these options prove to be great for business too.
In a Weak Cell Area, Bad Weather, Traffic, or the Country, You Need Reliable Communications.
Social media is a go-to for information. Garage sales, BBQs, and graduation updates are great to share in whatever way you want on whatever app you want. Many social media apps facilitate gathering and group planning.
However, when you need up-to-date info and quickly, do you know where to go?
I’m sharing options for you to consider that in my experience have performed better than the standard apps on my phone when cell service is limited.
Signal bars mean a lot when seconds count, and that’s my most important consideration for apps to communicate during an outage or with limited service 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.
The second most important consideration is contact access. I mean, how easily can I add my contacts and get my contacts to adopt it?
Here are a few apps for you to consider.
One of my favorites is Voxer, especially for task-oriented work. It’s a lightweight peer-to-peer app for text, voice, video, and photo communications. It’s literally just like an old fashioned walkie-talkie but with the added benefits of smart phones. You just push a button, hold to talk, and release it when you’re done. (I changed that setting so I don’t have to hold the button down the entire time; I can just push to talk and push to end.)
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 my good friend and favorite dancer, 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.
Free and paid versions
Business owners often like the paid version because they can save or access older conversations.
Security is always a concern. The ability to “Speak Freely” is a growing concern for individuals, not just businesses. For those who work in industries that are highly regulated and deal with sensitive, personal information, this could be a good option and might ease your clients’ the minds.
Encryption for secure conversations, whether they be text, voice, video, or photo is the focus for this app. Signal includes traditional calling, where when you click to call someone, you get a ring and may hang up if they don’t answer.
I’m on Signal too and love it. The buttons aren’t as big as Voxer’s, but it’s still easy to use. It’s even easier than my phone’s native texting app.
Free for everyone.
Both the Facebook app and website are not lightweight; they’re bloated. Even on good days, I notice it takes longer than others to load.
In spite of my initial kicking and screaming about the evils of Twitter, I’ve come to see over time the good in it. Twitter is built for fast communication. Not only that, it’s built for fast communication among multiple users. That’s a unique and difficult achievement.
When the power went out for a week in parts of San Antonio and cell signal was weak, I couldn’t text or call. But, I could still use Twitter. Twitter became a lifeline. In the “Deep Freeze” of 2021, much of San Antonio was without power and water. Those who still had water didn’t know for hours that there was a “boil water notice”. Our steep, hilly neighborhood was became a trap with all the roads to get out being completely iced over. Local government updated television and radio stations at some point, but how would we know when we didn’t have electricity? (We couldn’t locate batteries to fit the one battery-powered radio we had.) The one friend in the area that did have electricity live tweeted during the SAWS, CPS Energy, and COSA Facebook broadcast, which was the only way I was able to know what was going on in our area. Thank goodness for her!
During the freeze of 2021, 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
My 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!!!
Whether or not you want to use the app daily, it’s valuable during communication outages/disruptions. Cities, businesses, and individuals should use Twitter to share and receive updates on community and emergency issues. Create lists of people, government agencies, and media to follow. That will help you be more successful and prepared when you’re in a pinch.
Free and paid versions
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. I tried to ditch it, but I have friends in Europe who won’t use other apps, including Facebook, which owns WhatsApp. [Insert groaning here.]
You may still want to use it because your friends and family are using it. You just nee to know to make an informed decision.
What is your emergency plan?
Ham Radio and Police Scanners are commonly used in rural areas, especially for emergencies. If you don’t have one of these, you always have your phone. If you do have a ham radio or scanner, you could be helping others, like me, who don’t by reaching out and sharing what you hear on Voxer, Signal, or Twitter, just like Bridget did.