goTenna makes a Mesh of off-grid comms

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The device is able to relay communications via other goTenna Mesh devices nearby, thereby increasing the potential range(Credit: goTenna)

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When there's no network coverage or internet access, smartphones are rendered useless as a communications tool. The goTenna tackled this by allowing smartphones to communicate via their own radio-based network and, now, the goTenna Mesh can do so over triple the distances.

The original goTenna consists of a small radio antenna that connects to a user's smartphone via Bluetooth and an accompanying app for Android and iOS. The app allows users to send private text messages, public broadcast text messages and GPS data to other users. The distance over which this can be done varies, but when New Atlas put two of the devices through their paces in the Rockies earlier this year, we found we were able to stay in touch from over 2 mi (3.2 km) apart.

Those first-gen goTenna devices are such that communications are sent directly from one device to another, but this means that they must be within range of each other. The goTenna Mesh is able to relay communications via other goTenna Mesh devices, thereby increasing the potential range and allowing communications to be delivered between devices even if they are not within range of each other.

goTenna says the Mesh uses "military-grade mesh networking" to double or triple the range of the original device from around 1 mi (1.6 km) in built-up places to around 3 mi (4.8 km) in open terrain, with the network getting stronger with more users. The device automatically selects clear public radio frequencies over which to send communications. Despite this, and the fact that the devices of other users are used as as relay nodes, the firm says communications remain secure by way of end-to-end encryption.

Weighing in at 1.7 oz (48 g) and measuring 4.2 x .9 x 1.3 in (106.5 x 18 x 33 mm), the Mesh is both lightweight and small, making it easily portable. It can be used in remote locations, when traveling to avoid roaming charges, at crowded events like festivals, or in emergency situations.

In addition to sending private messages, public broadcast messages and GPS data via its 1-W ultra-high-frequency radio transmitter, it is also able to send group-chat messages. Like the first-generation device, it connects to smartphones via Bluetooth, but it is not interoperable with first-gen devices due to different frequencies. It also offers over 24 hours of standby time courtesy of its lithium-ion battery.

Of course, there are limitations to the device. For starters, in order for the mesh network functionality to come into play, there must be other goTenna Mesh users within range. If there aren't, then the mesh network effectively offers nothing different than the point-to-point functionality of its predecessor - a situation that is very likely if you're out in the wilderness. In addition, as mentioned, its range remains dependent on the surrounding terrain, so mountainous regions or built-up cities reduce the distance over which communications can be sent.

In addition to the Mesh, goTenna has announced a premium service: goTenna Plus users are given access to topographic maps, trip statistics, automated location tracking, location sharing among contacts, and group delivery confirmation receipts. It will also allow messages to be relayed to conventional mobile networks to be received in SMS format, marking the first time this has been possible with a goTenna device.

The goTenna Mesh will ultimately be sold in pairs for US$179 and will be the first goTenna product available outside the US. There is a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign underway for the Mesh too. At the time of writing, pledges from US$129 will receive a pair of goTenna Mesh devices, assuming all goes according to plan with the roll-out. Shipping is expected from this December.

The video below is the Kickstarter pitch for the goTenna Mesh.

Sources: goTenna, Kickstarter

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