The goTenna device enables text communication without going through a national communications network. Long term this could lead to the popularisation of a new type of personalised network.

goTenna Provides SMS Links Free of the Central Communications Network

Now that we generally have better-quality telecommunications networks – Edge, 3G, 4G, etc. – and increasing coverage, nothing is more frustrating than suddenly finding yourself without a GSM, WiFi or Internet connection. Yet it is not such an unusual occurrence. Service interruption may strike on a national basis, for example the outage suffered by French telecoms company SFR’s network on 24 July, and this can be costly for telecoms operators. Of course a network may also be cut as a result of a natural disaster. In fact it was when Hurricane Sandy struck the east coast of the United States in October 2012 that two young entrepreneurs first got the idea of a connectivity solution working off-grid. Since then they have been working to develop goTenna, a wireless device which connects to your smartphone and lets you send text messages and maps showing your current location to other people who are also in possession of a goTenna.

A portable ‘network’

The goTennas come in pairs. They are small baton-like devices which you can carry easily, or attach to your rucksack while out hiking. Using radio frequencies in the 151-154 MHz band, they transmit information from one goTenna user to another. The patent-pending technology uses Bluetooth Low Energy to connect the smartphone to the goTenna via a special app. The communication range between the two users can stretch up to around 80 km in open country, much less in built-up areas. The team came up with their first prototype in March 2013 and goTenna has just recently become available for pre-order in pairs on the company site for $150 (€110), with the eventual standard price forecast to work out at $300 (around €220).

Towards an autonomous, individual communications network

The company’s ultimate goal is to achieve total ‘mobility’ in the communications field. While nano-satellite manufacturers, such as French NovaNano and San Francisco-based PlanetLabs are looking to provide universal connectivity to the remotest places in the world, goTenna is positioning itself as an alternative to existing networks. The company owners are first targeting situations where interruptions in communications occur due to network saturation – the sort of thing that happens during a major event such as a sports event, music festival, etc – and also when people are travelling in far-flung places. Longer term however they are looking to provide communications that are not hosted on any telecoms operator-owned infrastructure. Meanwhile, goTenna exchanges will have a short history. The data exchanged resides only on the network linking the various goTenna devices and automatically self-destructs after a certain period of time.

By Eliane HONG