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goTenna lets you send text messages when there's no network available

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July 21, 2014

The goTenna provides connectivity for sending text messages when mobile networks are unava...

The goTenna provides connectivity for sending text messages when mobile networks are unavailable

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When a mobile network is down, overloaded or simply out of range, it can be certainly be inconvenient or potentially much worse. goTenna aims to keep mobile devices connected regardless of network status by creating its own network over which users can send messages to each other.

goTenna is somewhat reminiscent of the Be-Bound mobile app, which uses SMS messaging to provide internet access when there is no 3G or Wi-Fi availability. Where Be-Bound allows users to use email, check the weather and read the news, amongst other functionality, goTenna was developed with more serious applications in mind.

The device was conceived in the US towards the end of 2012 in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. According to the Federal Communications Commission, the storm knocked out around a quarter of cell towers across a 10 state area, leaving people unable to communicate when it was most critical. Siblings and goTenna founders Daniela and Jorge Perdomo saw that there would be a benefit to people being able to communicate in such situations via their mobile phones regardless of mobile network service.

"Our mission is twofold: to let people communicate whenever and wherever they want, on their own terms, and also to make sure that in times of a true emergency, people are able to reach others around them," says Daniela Perdomo.

Prototype devices were created at Brooklyn hackspace NYC Resistor and continued development was followed by seed funding in late 2013. Investors include Bloomberg Beta, Collaborative Fund, Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz and MentorTech Ventures.

goTenna is a 2-watt radio with an antenna and a range of up to 50 miles

The device itself is a 2-watt radio with an antenna and a range of up to 50 miles. It uses low-frequency radio waves to let users send text messages and share GPS locations with another goTenna user. According to the company, the device is powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts for about 72 hours with intermittent use or for around 30 hours with constant use. If not in use, it will retain its charge for about a year and half.

goTenna pairs with an iOS or Android device via Bluetooth low energy. Its app will automatically continue to try and send a message until successful and will notify users when a message has been sent. It is possible to send group messages, to send encrypted and "self-destructing" messages to maintain privacy and to "shout" broadcasts to anyone within range.

It's designed to be rugged, weather-proof and dust-proof and, at 5.8 x 1 x 0.5 in (147.3 x 25.4 x 12.7 mm) and 57 g (2 oz), is very portable. In addition to providing a means of communication when cell towers have been knocked out after natural disasters, goTenna can be used at major sports events when networks are overloaded, or when hiking out of network range. It can also be used as a free means of communication with friends or family when on holiday.

goTenna is available for a pre-sale price of US$149.99 per pair, after which they will retail for $299.

The video below provides an introduction to the goTenna.

Source: goTenna

About the Author
Stu Robarts Stu is a tech writer based in Liverpool, UK. He has previously worked on global digital estate management at Amaze and headed up digital strategy for FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology). He likes cups of tea, bacon sandwiches and RSS feeds.   All articles by Stu Robarts
16 Comments

As it stands it is only legal in the US - anywhere else in the world it needs a transmitting licence.

ivan4
21st July, 2014 @ 06:29 am PDT

ivan4, how did you find that out? Their website says "pending FCC approval". I decided not to buy, based on that lack of approval (also on the poor quality of their website, generally).

piperTom
21st July, 2014 @ 09:17 am PDT

From the Register GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work?

ivan4
21st July, 2014 @ 10:56 am PDT

It seems that this really isn't really that useful unless everybody else also has one... especially in emergency situations. It would need to be adopted widely to be worth that price.

Dax Wagner
21st July, 2014 @ 02:46 pm PDT

The range is abysmal and it only works if the other party has one as well. In an emergency you're better off having a pair of two way radios.

nicho
21st July, 2014 @ 02:59 pm PDT

I wonder why cell phones cant be made to connect to each other creating their own network

esar
21st July, 2014 @ 07:18 pm PDT

This looks like a scam, nothing else.

The alleged frequency is 155-154Mhz (or the 2 meter band) the range of a 2 watt transmitter in this frequency is (for rule of thumb) only line of sight plus 10%. Normal use range is around 1/2 to 3 miles outdoors. From one mountain top to another in perfect weather you might get 8-10 miles.

I know because I am a licensed radio amateur and regularly use 144Mhz at 5 watts. The chances that this would get licensed for use anywhere in the world is virtually nil. As another poster said, buy a couple of two way radios. As another asked why can mobiles not talk to each other? Because the phone companies would not earn any money from that! Simple.

hkmk23
22nd July, 2014 @ 01:52 am PDT

@esar

I think most today's cell phones can connetct to each other by bluetooth. Range is a problem, as it doesn't go very far (like 60 m or so). But yes, it would be much more sound if manufacturers would start thinking along these lines.

Short Fuse
22nd July, 2014 @ 02:24 am PDT

GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work? http://www.theregister.co.uk/2014/07/21/gotenna_talks_radio_bollocks_most_tech_websites_parrot_it/ It is also worth reading some of the comments - the technical ones are very good, the others are typical Register banter.

As Dax Wagner and nicho say, it is cheaper and better to use normal two way radios, they give better range and use normal voice.

This device is a supposed 'solution' looking for a problem and requires a very large number to be in use to be of any use. To get the large number out on the streets they would need to sell for less than $10 each.

ivan4
22nd July, 2014 @ 03:27 am PDT

@ easr: If cell phones could connect to each other or even form their own dynamic network, the cell phone network providers who sponsor most of the cell phones people have via their rates, would not earn a cent, right?

I think that answers the qestion. It would be technically possible to have them connect. It would drain a bit more battery, since there would be a constant data overhead sent and received in order to maintain the network, but it would still be possible.

martinkopplow
22nd July, 2014 @ 03:45 am PDT

@hkmk23 Thank you, it's refreshing to see an amateur radio nerd around. I took got my license a long time ago to learn more about it but never got a radio or anything.

Anyway, in addition to being in the 2 meter band it operates at 2 watts. Handheld Amateur Radios that operate near that frequency band are typically 5 watts. For longer distance 2 meter communication people generally use a centralized repeater station that runs 25 to 75 watts. I agree with hkmk23 that this is unlikely to be capable of more than a couple miles.

It's always nice to see ham people bringing a voice of reason to pie in the sky expectations of wireless technologies.

Daishi
22nd July, 2014 @ 04:34 am PDT

hkmk23 remarked "...that mobiles can't talk to each other [b]ecause the phone companies would not earn any money from that."

That's a bit cynical. Phones have wifi and bluetooth without any direct tie to service provider revenue. Perhaps the wonder should be that consumers who have FIVE radios in a tiny box can't see why they shouldn't have six.

Radios in my phone are NFC, Bluetooth, wifi, phone connection, and GPS. The phone connection might actually be two radios. Just pack in another one beside the camera, audio, gyro, accelerometer, flashlight, computer, touch screen, and mass storage -- nach!

piperTom
22nd July, 2014 @ 10:47 am PDT

@piperTom, I believe, in all computer-based radios, a "channel" consists of a pair of frequencies (referred to as "duplex" or "full-duplex"), thus allowing transmit and receive at the same time. I know cellphones and WiFi are that way.

CB radio and the old(not modern) police and military radios have single-frequency channels (called "half-duplex" or "simplex") so users have to trade off talking.

Two simplex radios can communicate directly to each other because there is only one frequency.

However, two duplex radios require a "repeater" somewhere in range before they can connect. The repeater's frequency assignments are the opposite to the radios'. It receives on the radios' transmit frequency and transmits on the radios' receive frequency.

A cellphone "hotspot" is just radio repeater. You can also get WiFi repeaters for around $50 that extend the range when walls and other obstacles block signals.

DocSalvager
22nd July, 2014 @ 07:33 pm PDT

I would really like to learn more about the battery -"rechargeable lithium-ion battery that lasts for about 72 hours with intermittent use or for around 30 hours hours with constant use." capability in a package this size - 147.3 x 25.4 x 12.7 mm. This is almost 1/3 the the size of any recent smartphone. And this for a transceiver with 50 mile range !

pmshah
23rd July, 2014 @ 02:48 am PDT

Daniela, goTenna co-founder here. I just want to address some misunderstandings and/or misinformation here.

We are operating on the MURS publicly unlicensed bands (151-154 MHz) and transmitting at 2W, which is what the FCC allows. The kinds of ranges we present in our range calculator are according to RF industry standards, and moreover, we have borne them out in real life. We are not just making it up. :)

We have *absolutely* gotten more than a couple of miles range. We even got up to 3.5 miles on the ground in NYC -- of course, that was in Central Park. :) We usually get somewhere between 0.5 and 1 mile in the rest of he city. In the Great Outdoors, we've gotten on average 3-4 miles when un-elevated, and dozens of miles from upon mountains and the like.

MURS has great propagation characteristics which enables it to turn corner, interact with matter, and even go over a mountain. Thanks.

Daniela Perdomo
23rd July, 2014 @ 12:25 pm PDT

@Daniela Perdomo

Thank you for the reply, those numbers seem a lot more realistic.

Daishi
23rd July, 2014 @ 02:42 pm PDT
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