Cebuanos turn to FireChat app amid telco shutdown for Sinulog

By: Michelle Joy L. Padayhag, Ryan Macasero January 14,2017 - 10:29 PM

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Amid a shutdown of telecommunication services in Cebu City for the Sinulog Festival, Cebuanos are turning to mobile app FireChat for communication and old fashion meet-ups. Others, like emergency responders and radio stations, turned to two-way radio and repeaters to communicate.

The shutdown began at 3 a.m. Saturday before the fluvial procession in Mandaue City that started close to 7 a.m.

The shutdown, which was announced on January 12, was implemented by telecommunication companies Smart Philippines, Globe Telecom and Sun Cellular after the National Telecommunication Commission approved the request of the Police Regional Office in Central Visayas to shut off signals in Cebu City during the fluvial and foot processions on Saturday and during the dawn Mass and grand parade on Sunday amid concerns of a possible terrorist attack during these festival events.

This year’s annual Sinulog Festival comes only weeks after a bomb that exploded in Hilongos, Leyte, which injured 30 fiesta-goers, was believed to have been triggered by a mobile phone.

Cebuanos began posting on Facebook instructions on how to download the FireChat app days before the scheduled shutdown. The app creates its own network with other FireChat users through bluetooth signals.

Although all Sinulog-related activities take place in Cebu City and Mandaue City, the cities of Talisay in the south and Lapu-Lapu on Mactan Island, as well as the towns of Consolacion and Liloan (north), Minglanilla (south) and Cordova (Mactan Island) are also affected by the shutdown.

FireChat is an open-source chat that allows users to communicate even without cellular signal, data or internet with anyone within a 70-meter radius.

An active public chat called #everyone started early Saturday morning, where FireChat users began chatting with each other.

Cebu City Mayor Tomas Osmeña explained in a Facebook post that while people will be inconvenienced by the shutdown, it’s an inconvenience “that can save lives.” He said, “the bomb that exploded in Davao last September was also likely detonated by a cellular phone.”

But some found FireChat too inconvenient and instead relied on meet-ups as a means to see friends yesterday and for today’s Sinulog Grand Parade set to start at 9 a.m.

Netizen Christian Edgar Daan pointed out that FireChat still needs WiFi or internet connection to download and to fully work.

He said he, his cousins and friends decided to designate the Robinsons Fuente mall as their assembly area for today’s grand parade.

“Our assembly time is at noon. Waiting time is around 20 to 30 minutes. If they will not arrive on our scheduled time and meeting place, then we will leave the area and proceed to Mango Avenue,” Daan said in a Facebook chat with Cebu Daily News.

Daan, an iPhone user, found using FireChat “troublesome to use without a WiFi connection” and “not that useful.”

Another netizen, Creslito Nieves, said he and his friends will bring their mobile phones today not to message each other over FireChat but to use them to take pictures. Nieves and his friends scheduled a meeting time at 10 a.m. today at the Capitol Grounds.

Other netizens did not also find the application useful.

Joseph Chick, in a comment left on CDN’s Facebook page, said FireChat was “crashing on my android. No use.”

Another CDN Facebook follower, Joey Lanut, said, “Kalas battery.” (It uses too much battery.)

But others found FireChat the best way to keep the communication going in the absence of a mobile signal.

Marving Llanos Maning said, “So why worry much during the Sinulog 2017 on signal interruption when we have FireChat.”

Liv G. Campo has been recommending the application to her Facebook friends since Thursday, having downloaded the app before the signals were shut down.

Other netizens who downloaded the app went inside FireChat’s public chatrooms asking for tutorial on how the application will works, just like Facebook user LordAllen Hernandez who said, “How to use this app? Add me please Ida. Look for @JohnLloydCruz. #fireChat #NoSignalInCebu.”

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TAGS: #Sinulog2017, Cebu, Cebu City, cellular signal, chatapp, data, Firechat, Internet, security, signal, Sinulog

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