Zello: A PTT (push to talk) app surges in popularity with Hurricane Irma

(Source: The Washington Post via David Korchin)

As Hurricane Harvey dropped anchor over Southeast Texas last week, Zello became the go-to app for rescuers working to save thousands of people trapped by floodwaters.

Within days of Harvey’s arrival, the app saw a 20-fold increase in usage in Houston, according to Bill Moore, the Austin based startup’s the chief executive.

As Hurricane Irma hurtles across the Caribbean toward the coast of Florida, Zello continues to boom in popularity. The free Internet “walkie-talkie” app — which relies on cellphone data plans or WiFi and is designed to operate in places where signals are weak — became the top app on iTunes and Google Play Wednesday.

The latest influx began Tuesday and, at one point, Moore said, 120 people were registering for the app every second. In recent days, the app has also trended on Facebook and Twitter, offering another example of the pivotal role social media is playing in natural disasters.

“The heat map of where the registrations are occurring looks like the hurricane’s forecast path,” he added. “It’s very dense at the tip among the Caribbean islands and then fans out across Florida.”[…]

Continue reading at The Washington Post online.

I find Zello quite interesting. If you think about it, this app mimics the concept of traditional PTT/two-way radio which certainly has traffic management advantages during times of emergencies. Of course, Zello has many features traditional two-way radio does not (voice history, the ability to leave messages, native GPS and mapping functionality, etc.).

Zello does rely on some sort of Internet connectivity via 4G, 3G, WiFi, GPRS and/or EDGE. During disasters, these services may not always be accessible. Of course, amateur radio, CB and other traditional radio services do not require Internet connectivity.

Zello requires no license, no radio, nor any other accessories–just a smart phone–and is free. That’s a powerful combination and, as The Washington Post reports, Zello is obviously helping with Irma relief efforts. Thanks for the tip, David!

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6 thoughts on “Zello: A PTT (push to talk) app surges in popularity with Hurricane Irma

  1. David

    I just experienced the wrath of Hurricane Irma, because I live in Florida. I had no electricity or internet service during the storm and 5 days after the storm. Cell phone service was very inconsistent, because of the loss of electricity and cell phone towers were down. Zello is a great app for everyday use during normal operating conditions. It is NOT going to work during a disaster. Additionally, unless you have a alternative charging method, your cell is going to have a dead battery.

    1. Drew

      Simply get )or make) a cigarette lighter socket to battery clips lead and insert a usb charger – after a disaster you’ll be able to find a car batter to charge your phone in an emergency. Even a car disabled by a storm is likely to have power in its battery for days, if not weeks. You can also use solar or hand cranked chargers. You just have to be prepared.

  2. Kobaljov

    In emergency situations when there is no internet connection (e.g. the local network, cell towers are not working) other type of smartphone apps can be used for direct two directional communication and relaying via WiFi in short distances (peer to peer, mesh network, etc.), for example the FireChat.

    Plus if your smartphone’s maker or service provider not disabled it (for business reasons) there is a high chance that your phone can receive FM radio broadcast. (Which can be probably extended with SDR apps.)

  3. Aaron Kuhn

    I learned about this app being used by schools last year and after playing with it myself I’m absolutely certain this will kill the demand for radios in lots of smaller, simpler environments that would traditionally use radios. It’s super simple to use, worked well in my testing, and was feature rich without being overwhelming.

    I’m pleasantly surprised to see it’s been useful in disaster scenarios, and while maybe not the ideal “radio” from a technical perspective, it points to the idea “the best radio is the one you have”, which in this case is the “radio” in people’s cellphones.

    Interestingly the business version of this app has support for Hardware RF Gateways to extend the Zello network onto traditional RF: https://zellowork.com/lmr

    1. Thomas Post author

      Wow–extending over traditional RF? Cool!

      I’m guessing this would also work when connected to a mesh network since WiFi can be used as a conduit.


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