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

goTenna stick

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.

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

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