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.
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.