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Let’s Talk Walkie Talkies

It feels like an outdated technology.  It seems like something meant only for miners or emergency workers.  Some of us, may have used it as a childhood toy. It sometimes will appear in a sci-fi or action movie. But to the average cell phone user, what’s the point walkie talkie technology?

Lately, walkie talkie technology has popped up in the news as a useful tool during recent hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Notice I didn’t say walkie talkies, but walkie talkie technology.  The bulkiness of old-school walkie talkies has been kicked to the curb (by some) for the lightweight phone app.  

The function of a walkie talkie is to speak to someone in real-time by way of a two-way radio frequency channel.  This one channel is used for both speaking and listening, which only allows one person to talk at a time. This is considered “half-duplex communication” while more than one person being able to speak at the same time is considered “full-duplex communication.” Half-duplex communication is normally not considered preferable, but when it comes to emergency situations and locating people in need quickly, it can really come in handy.

During Harvey and Irma, the rumor spread that the walkie talkie app “Zello” could work without internet or cellular data. This rumor is incorrect and the app does require data or internet. This may have been a shock to some of the millions of people who downloaded the app before, during and after these hurricanes. In the case of down phone lines and cell towers, a bulky walkie talkie may have been even more helpful.  

Still, to The Cajun Navy, the Houston search and rescue volunteer group, the Zello app was undoubtedly an asset during difficult times. App use already rises during natural disasters, but the exclusive use of the app combined with the rumor and social media exposure helped spike app downloads. The truth is, this app has been around since 2011 and it is not the only one of its kind, nor the oldest. Other walkie talkie apps include Voxer, Marco Polo, and Two Way are just a few of many walkie talkie options.

With so many options for apps, it is understandable to want someone to guide you by saying “HEY! THIS IS THE BEST APP TO USE!” but with so many options, feel free to test them out. Maybe one app is more suited for your family or friends than another. And remember, it doesn’t just have to be for natural disasters. It can be a fun and unique way of communicating with someone you rarely talk to or someone you talk to on a daily basis. Marco Polo has been pretty popular amongst my family. According to app reviews, Two Way isn’t a bad alternative to Zello either.

As you explore and experiment with this new-old technology however, be aware of the dangers that can come with them.  Like any source of communication, online chatting or picking up a phone call, you CAN run into strangers on a walkie talkie. See what your app says about other people being able to tune in to your frequency.  Some of these apps operate like CB radios.  If you do not feel safe, make sure your channel is private or shut off the app. There also may be bugs, like in many apps, at some point. Be transparent about your issues by writing reviews and letting the organizers of the app aware so they can hopefully be of help.

Overall, just make sure you have a full understanding of your app’s function before trying it and also before giving it the boot. You could have a really cool resource at hand if you just take the time to become acquainted with it.  And with all of this hurricane weather still lingering, it may be to your benefit.

The Zello app was one of many apps put together in a survival kit developed by Google.  Google Play has included in this kit apps like Waze, FEMA, American Red Cross, Cash App, CNN Breaking News, and many others to help people locate help, locate each other, and to handle transactions.

Thanks to walkie talkie technology, developers, and rescuers, people have been brought to safety and received further aid.  What will your idea, innovation, and desire to help the world lead to?


This piece comes to us from one of our talented content contributors, Cynthia Sharpe. Her bio is below and if you would like to work with us you can email us here!

Cynthia M. Sharpe, is a May 2015 graduate of NC State University. Cynthia graduated with a B.A. in English with a concentration in creative writing and currently aspires to pursue an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. “As I let my own light shine, I unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” -Cynthia M. Sharpe, inspired by Marianne Williamson

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