Rainier Redoubt: Zello Emergency Communications

Rainier Redoubt has posted a brief article on using the Zello app for emergency communications. Zello is available for iPhone, Android, and for Windows PCs. The Zello app does require an internet connection, so why might you use it? In a disaster that doesn’t destroy cell towers or backbone fiber links, you may still find that you can’t make outgoing phone calls because all of the circuits are busy. You may be able to text or email, but using Zello may be your easiest voice option to contact someone outside of your area. It may also be available if authorities have blocked phone calls. If yu have radio mesh applications for emergencies in your area, you may still be able to get internet service even if the cell towers are down, but you’ll need to know about its availability.

Zello is an application startup located in Austin, Texas. The application emulates push-to-talk (PTT) walkie-talkies over cellular and WiFi networks. The app is available for Android, iOS, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Windows PC, rugged mobile devices and two-way radios. Zello is free for personal use, while the Zello@Work application is free for up to five users. For more than five users Zello@Work costs $6.00 per user / per month. Perks that Zello@Work offers include private networks, dedicated servers, management interfaces for users and channels, higher security, cloud history and tech support.

Zello turns your phone into a walkie talkie and works anywhere in the world as long as you are connected to the Internet! Please note however that the Zello app cannot function without an Internet connection. According to the Zello Support page: “Zello cannot work without internet access, but if both you and your contact are within one network, the voice will be transferred using the shortest way – WiFi network in your case. Internet will be used only to log into Zello network and do some service data exchange, it will be less than 1 kiB per second.”

Once connected, users can join channels and instantly send voice messages or photos, and the app even works over older 2G networks.

…Zello made the news in June 2013 when Turkish protesters used it to circumvent government censors. As a result, Zello was the top most downloaded application in Turkey during the first week of June 2013. In February 2014, it was blocked by CANTV in Venezuela. Zello issued workarounds and patches to overcome the blocks to support approximately 600,000 Venezuelans who have downloaded the application to communicate with each other amidst protests. It “has been one of the most downloaded applications in Ukraine and Venezuela.” In April 2017, the Roskomnadzor instructed Russian Internet Service Providers to block mobile access to Zello. Under Russia’s data privacy law passed in 2016, all companies processing the personal data of Russian citizens are obliged to store it on servers within the country’s borders for a half of the year and provide it to law enforcement if necessary. Zello had more than 400,000 users in Russia. In August 2017 during relief efforts following Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Zello became a popular method for communications between volunteer rescuers and people stranded by the widespread flooding. The app received over 6 million signups in one week as Florida residents prepared for Hurricane Irma. In 2018 Zello had over 120,000,000 subscribers world-wide…