goTenna is a cognitive digital radio which is combined with an app that generates its own signal and automatically coordinates with other units within range. It does all the heavy-lifting, and allows one to chat 1-to-1, with a group, or even broadcast openly to anyone nearby.
goTenna 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 goTenna is targeted for situations where there’s no signal at all. It was born after superstorm Sandy, the 2012 storm that knocked out cell service in parts of New York and New Jersey. In the aftermath, company co-founder Daniela Perdomo, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based tech entrepreneur originally from São Paulo, wondered if there might be a way to let people still use their smartphones without being susceptible to infrastructure failure. The GoTenna began shipping in October.
Like its name suggests, the goTenna is a radio antenna. The construction of this device goes this way where it is about 6 inches long, it’s small and light enough to clip onto a backpack or jacket—but noticeable enough that people stopped me to ask what it was. It connects via Bluetooth to an Apple or Android phone, where the goTenna app can send and receive data through the antenna when it’s extended to 8 inches. The rechargeable battery lasts about 24 hours, or long enough to send 700 messages.
The goTenna operates on some of the lowest frequencies (151 to 154 MHz) available without a radio license. Those frequencies allow digital signals to travel longer distances. But due to limited bandwidth, goTenna’s technology doesn’t send voice or photos. It only sends text messages and GPS coordinates—sufficient both for telling a buddy you’ve found the perfect campsite…or flagging a helicopter to come get you off that godforsaken mountain.
goTenna’s app is a product of the smartphone age, but the antenna itself is old-school radio. It works best in areas that are mostly flat, or where there is a clear line of sight between both antennas.
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.
There are factors that can degrade or block goTenna signals, including glass, large buildings and random urban radio-frequency noise. Even holding it in your hand or attaching it too close to the ground on a backpack can hurt. The app doesn’t let anyone know when you come in and out of range of another goTenna, just whether a message you’ve sent was received.
goTenna communication, which can be encrypted from end to end, may also appeal to people who want to stay out of regular communication channels—potentially including criminals.