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No signal? GoTenna has a messaging gadget that will work in the middle of nowhere

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For all of our dependency on mobile phones, there are still quite a few places in this world you can’t get a wireless signal, from mountaintops to national parks to rural highways and even the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

A New York City radio hardware startup called goTenna has an interesting new gadget that will keep your phone connected when there’s no cellular or Wi-Fi signal to be found. The goTenna device is a 6-inch long baton that pairs with an iOS or Android device using Bluetooth. It then connects with other goTennas miles away, allowing their paired phones to communicate with one another over peer-to-peer links.

goTenna pairs with an iOS or Android device allowing them to send messages and GPS coordinates to other goTenna users
goTenna pairs with an iOS or Android device allowing them to send messages and GPS coordinates to other goTenna users. Source: goTenna

It’s an extremely low bandwidth network, so it’s really only useful for send text messages and GPS coordinates, but it’s extremely long-range thanks to the 151-154 MHz frequencies goTenna uses. Lower frequencies propagate further and can punch through or wrap around obstacles like trees. To put that in perspective, the lowest-band mobile network in operation today is at 700 MHz, while Wi-Fi starts another 1700 MHz further up the electromagnetic spectrum chart.

According to CEO and co-founder Daniela Perdomo, goTenna’s range is only limited by the horizon, allowing its signals to propagate up to nine miles in open environments. As you introduce obstacles, that range decreases, but Perdomo said goTenna is still seeing three to four miles in forested areas and even a mile in dense urban areas like her native Brooklyn. In an situations where the open horizon is greatly extended, say at the top of a mountain, she said, goTenna’s signals can propagate as far as 50 miles.

Jorge and Daniela Perdomo, siblings and co-founders of goTenna
Jorge and Daniela Perdomo, siblings and co-founders of goTenna

The network formed by goTenna is completely off the internet grid, so you’re not going to be surfing the web or tweeting with the device. But goTenna has designed a messaging and location-sharing app complete with downloadable maps that will make it very convenient for people in the middle of nowhere to communicate with another and coordinate their movements.

“It can be used by two people in the Sahara or 5,000 people at Coachella,” Perdomo said. “We’re flexible.”

As you can imagine, the big draw for such a gadget is going to be from the outdoorsy crowd, and Perdomo said goTenna plans to target the device at trekkers, mountain climbers, skiers, hunters, day hikers and the outfitters that supply them (it’s a device that lends itself to renting). But Perdomo readily admits there many other niche markets goTenna could appeal to.

goTenna app

There’s the survivalist/militia/soldier-of-fortune crowd and even the growing number of people in all seriousness preparing for the zombie apocalypse. Perdomo thinks it will be a hit with privacy advocates and also used as a means to circumvent government censorship under repressive regimes. Since goTenna’s messages never touch the internet there’s nothing to intercept unless authorities have a radio scanner, and even then all goTenna communications use RSA 1024 encryption, Perdomo said.

The device won’t start shipping until this fall, but goTenna started taking pre-orders on its website today. The cost is $150 for two devices. Why two? Well considering they form a peer-to-peer network, it’s a bit pointless to buy one.

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This post was updated on Friday to eliminate confusion over what frequency bands the goTenna device uses.

46 Responses to “No signal? GoTenna has a messaging gadget that will work in the middle of nowhere”

  1. Wish to thank those who DO support the inventors of this product.

    Doubly, wish the doubters, and/or naysayers the ability to change their mindsets from negative to positive. Some day you’ll wish you had this marvelous goTenna.

    Yes, I am NOT affiliated with goTenna in ANY MANNER. Believe that credit should be given to those due.

  2. radiofreeq

    GoTenna is now publishing an expected range of “Up to 3.6 miles” when carried by a person.

    This is a realistic estimate of normal data texting range using modulations such as PSK or MFSK or FSK on VHF MURS frequencies with less than 2 Watts of transmitter power.

    Assuming that GoTenna eventually gets FCC Type Approval (not a slam dunk) and is able to actually sell the product in USA… Under FCC rules, MURS devices may not be connected to the public telephone network, may not be used for “store and forward” operations, and radio repeaters are not permitted. They would need to demonstrate to FCC that it isn’t a repeater between VHF(MURS) and Microwave (Bluetooth). So, it appears under those FCC rules that any texting going over GoTenna application could not be relayed to the normal cellular network and the internet.

    GoTenna would transmit a digital signal on one or more of the following frequencies:

    151.820 MHz (MURS channel 1)
    151.880 MHz (MURS channel 2)
    151.940 MHz (MURS channel 3)
    154.570 MHz (MURS channel 4, aka Blue Dot channel)
    154.600 MHz (MURS channel 5, aka Green Dot channel)

    GoTenna would have to peacefully co-exist on these MURS channels with thousands of existing users who have been using these channels for voice FM walkie talkies and also with security/alarm devices such as Dakota Alert.

    Potentially, a slow texting data signal such as the GoTenna could cut through such interference from other services if the interference was not too severe. Co-existence strategy is quite different for MURS FM vs MURS data texting, than it is with services such as Wi-Fi, which are designed to have many users simultaneously on the same channels.

    Overall, the concept of the GoTenna is a good one. Basically, a texting repeater from Bluetooth to MURS, using the smartfone as the UI.


  3. radiofreeq

    Hey Kevin,

    The GoTenna gadget works on MURS VHF (a widely known term).

    NOT ultra-low-band.

    Lots of people own MURS VHF walkie talkie radios, you can buy them at Home Depot and many other places and talk on voice using FM. They are really common.

    It is rare that you would get 8 or 9 miles range.on MURS VHF data texting using the GoTenna. More likely, you will get about 2 miles range in suburbia or any average terrain. Less in cities.

    Read more about survivalist radio frequencies on our RadioMaster Reports to learn more about it.

  4. Fredrick Rossay

    I honestly knew nothing about this technology before coming here, and I found the comments to be more knowledgeable… and I’m stoned.

  5. TheCodeBenders

    2W start, shit antennas (nothing in that small of a package is going to tune at 151MHz especially omni) and constant non-RFLOS because the antenna will never be far enough off the ground. Yeah… not going to get 51 miles with that.

  6. Heh, heh. It feels like I’m the only one who understands what he was trying to say without the need to pick nits. And I’ve got an EE degree. :-)

    I must agree though that at that frequency the range claims are inflated to optimal conditions and I won’t deal with or trust any outfit that inflates its claims from the gitgo. Enough of that on Kickstarter and it never works out well.

    I do wish that the FCC would carve a little off of the bottom of the CB band and allow encryption for this type of citizen use. That seems in keeping with the original intent and is a very, very useful purpose.

  7. Tricky2200

    I didn’t know the FCC allowed digital transmission in the MURS band? I always assumed they didn’t . They don’t allow digital in the FRS unlicensed band or even the GMRS frequencies.

  8. Kevin Fitchard

    A lot of people have taken issue with this, so I just eliminated the qualifiers describing the MURS spectrum and updated the post.

    It’s probably not going satisfy some of you, and I apologize. But this post is meant to explain the technology to a more general tech audience, not radio engineers, so I’m not going to be draw them into a long discussion over VHF and the confusing naming schemes in the EM spectrum chart.

    But it appears this post is starting to pop up under searches for ELF and ULF, prompting many of you to come to the post under false pretenses. I’m not trying to mislead or bait anyone. So hopefully that will stop.

  9. Outdoor uses aside, the most attractive potential use of this thing is perhaps for private group/crowd communications in an authoritarian society, such as Iran or China. What a great way to go “under the radar” of authorities?

    • echamberlain

      The signal won’t go under the radar. It is readily detectible, especially if it is being used in unauthorized bands. Just ask any MURS abuser that has been fined by the FCC.

  10. Menachem was here

    Also, such VHF frequencies would normally need an antenna larger than this gadget. So there will be a significant range penalty if if doesn’t have a collapsible whip antenna, which it doesn’t. Range is almost certainly going to be less than advertised.

    Also, the FCC licensing is not a sure thing. Using marketing to pressure the FCC is not a brilliant move. If it goes badly wrong, blame the marketing decision makers.

    By the way VHF/UHF is something even your grandparents would have understood, at least vaguely. TV. There’s no excuse for pandering to the lowest common denominator with the “ultra low” nonsense.

  11. Menachem was here

    “…ultra-low-band frequencies 151-154 MHz…”

    Technically, that’s called Very High Frequency (VHF). It’s cringe-worthy to describe it as “ultra low band”, a noob-gaff that will have radio engineers laughing, or crying.

  12. Alexandra Nicola

    Interesting device. But I do feel that the main usage will be for urgencies and different problems. I like to think that when you decide to go in an area that has no reception you do it cause you want to not have no reception while you enjoy the area.

    • Menachem was here

      “…the main usage will be for urgencies…”

      If you’re ten km into the forest, then you’d need to have prepositioned your GoTenna equipped communications staff every two km along the trail to relay your distress message. And hope that they all have direct line of sight so the signals will not be blocked by hills.

      Might as well bring a chocolate teapot.

  13. Anonymouse

    And when I’m using two way radio on these same frequencies, the duty cycle isn’t going to mix. Your signals will get completely demolished.

  14. Michael W. Perry

    Quote: …but it’s extremely long-range thanks to the ultra-low-band frequencies 151-154 MHz frequencies goTenna uses.”

    Others have beat this poor horse. I’ll join in. 151-154 MHz is not only in the Very High Frequency (VHF) portion of the spectrum (30-300 MHz), it’s what’s consider high VHF. Sure, it’ll pass through forests a bit better than the 700 MHz-and-up cellular channels. It’ll also fill in dips in the terrain a bit, but not nearly as good as low VHF. Aircraft use frequencies just below this, but land armies drop down into 30-50 MHz range and use a lot of power to fill in the dips.

    Actually, the promoters are being honest. Nine miles is about the very best you could expect in open terrain (perhaps hill top to hill top over water) and buildings, hills or forests will quickly cut that down. A mile is more realistic in hiking conditions. Indoors? Forget going very far. And keep in mind that cellular systems talk far at their higher frequencies because they put high-gain and often directional antennas up high. This’ll be little antennas down low at both ends.

    I also wonder about their anywhere in the world claims. The frequencies are used for radio astronomy, particularly in Europe (Region 1); Note this:

    The Radio Astronomy Service has in the band 150.05 – 153.0 MHz a shared primary allocation in Region 1. It falls near the middle of a wide gap in continuum coverage. In the United States, a large amount of interference occurs in this band. A clear continuum band is badly needed between the current 74 and 327 MHz allocations. This band is widely used in the United Kingdom and is a major band for the Giant Metre-wave Radio Telescope, GMRT, in India. Further worldwide consolidation would be most desirable. This band is also used for pulsar observations and solar observations.”

    I suspect they’re making use of MURS:

    “In the United States, the Multi-Use Radio Service (MURS) is an unlicensed two-way radio service similar to Citizens Band (CB). Established by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in the fall of 2000, MURS created a radio service allowing for unlicensed (Part 95) operation, with a power limit of 2 watts. The FCC formally defines MURS as “a private, two-way, short-distance voice or data communications service for personal or business activities of the general public.” MURS stations may not be connected to the public telephone network, may not be used for store and forward operations, and radio repeaters are not permitted.”

    For keeping in touch at a crowded concert when the cells systems are overloaded, it should be fine. Just don’t depend on it for emergencies the wilderness. For that you need either a satellite phone or an amateur radio handheld that can hit repeaters. For where you’ll be going, consult the locals. They’ll know what works.

    –Mike Perry, KE7NV

    • Kevin Fitchard

      Hey Michael,

      Thanks for commenting. Question: Are there any other lower frequency bands that could be used for this kind network other than MURS? Talking to goTenna, they said they had a hell of time getting the FCC to sign off on the device and had to give assurances it wouldn’t be used for multi-hop, or any kind of point-to-multipoint data setup that depends on a base station or repeaters. The way Perdomo described it works similar to paging network sending out it’s messages multiple times in short intervals.

      I’m curious, if someone were to take this concept further, how low could they go?

      • The next unlicensed band down is CB, which is around 27 MHz. With very narrow exceptions, only voice transmissions are allowed on CB, and you’re not allowed to encrypt communications.

    • Paco Loco


      Good description of the radio propagation at 150 MHz. with a non-directional antenna. This radio will have very limited coverage. There isn’t a lower VHF band that they can use without licensing.


    • Paco Loco


      Good description of the radio propagation at 150 MHz. with a non-directional antenna. This radio will have very limited coverage. There isn’t a lower VHF band that they can use without licensing.


  15. “Ultra low band?!??!” Really? Please, please so some research before you write stuff like this.

    The MURS band (the channelized allocation from ~151-155MHz or 1.9 Meter if talking about in wavelength) is by definition in the VHF frequency area. “Ultra low bands” would be some where below 1.8MHz or 160Meters.

    • Kevin Fitchard

      David, Charles,

      Like I told Stev, I’m not going attempting to use technical radio terminology in this piece. I want to explain to laymen why this kind of technology has so much greater range than traditional mobile communications technology. In the world of mobile 700 MHz is considered low band spectrum. So relatively speaking 100 MHz would be very low or “ultra” low as I chose to describe.

      Tossing around terms like MURS or VHF (which most people associate with the bottom of their TV dial) doesn’t help the majority of our readers at all. It’s only meaningful to the guys like you that follow radio technologies closely. And just because regulators and engineers appropriated words like “very high” and “ultra low” for their band names doesn’t mean those adjectives are now off limits. You should also note I didn’t use the term ULF or anything like that. I’m describing the frequencies in relative terms.

      I honestly don’t understand why you guys are being such pedants about this.

      • echamberlain

        Because when discussing radio, ultra low band has another meaning. When I started reading this article, I thought the product used the unlicensed ULF frequencies, which would have made for a much more interesting product.

      • Charles McGuinness

        I’ll tell you what: when the device is released, you show me that people are usually getting more than a mile or two of range from it in the real world, and I’ll agree that I’m being pedantic.

      • Menachem was here

        “…’m not going attempting to use technical radio terminology in this piece.”

        Problem is, you *did*.

        Both “Extremely Low” (ELF) and “Ultra Low” (ULF) frequency bands have well defined meanings – look them up. You used both terms, thereby attracting thousands of radio engineers to your article; because it would be very interesting if the product actually did use ELF/ULF bands… …but it doesn’t. Thousands of radio engineers leave disappointed, and perhaps a bit cranky at the false bait of your accidental misuse of long established terms.

        It’s a trivial boo-boo, but it is indisputably a boo-boo.

  16. Charles McGuinness

    No, really, just call it VHF. It’s also using a small set of frequencies that other people use as well called “MURS”. The range estimates are a bit disingenuous given the restrictions on antenna heights in the regulations and the clearly sub-optimal antenna in the device. It will be interesting to see what the real-world experiences show.

    • Nicolas Perdomo

      Hi Charles, you are correct that the ranges are upper end and for ideal scenarios, the company has been up front that these are ideal calculations. I wouldn’t worry about the height restrictions though, because those only exist for fixed antennas, you can go as high as you want if you’re a person with a gotenna – like if you’re hiking on a mountain!

    • Kevin Fitchard


      I wasn’t going for the technical definition, I was just trying to put these frequencies in context for our readership, so ultra-low-band in this case is in relation to traditional cellular bands which is where these kind of mobile data services usually reside.

          • Zachary Cameron

            But sir, you are being called out as being erronious, and to defend yourself at this point puts you into full of shit territory.

            “extremely long-range thanks to the ultra-low-band frequencies 151-154 MHz frequencies goTenna uses.”

            The definition of VHF, or Very High Frequency, comms is 30-300MHz,

            You are contributing to the ignorance of society, and benefitting no one by trying to redifine a term which has been public knowledge for years.

      • Kevin Fitchard

        Hey Justin,

        I have always wondered what the conversations were like when VHF and UHF were named: “Holy crap, 30 MHz is a high frequency! Don’t even talk to me started on 300 MHz….”

        Did you wind up pre-ordering a pair?

        • Early radio was long wave and medium wave, with frequencies below 3 MHz or so. The Titanic called SOS on the international distress frequency of 500 kHz. Later amateur radio operators found out that shorter wavelengths (higher frequencies) worked better over long distances, and so High Frequency, or HF, was born, up to 30 MHz.

          • Kevin Fitchard

            Hey Guan,

            I was only making a joke, riffing on Justin’s comment on how terms like very high and ultra high are now very relative terms. But that’s good background info. Thanks for commenting.

            • Some of the names do sound like jokes. As you go down, you have ultra low frequency, super low frequency and extremely low frequency. At the other end, there’s “tremendously high frequency” (which I suspect may be a joke).