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GoTenna is intended for both recreational use (backpacking, etc.) and emergency use

Having filed its final paperwork necessary to receive approval from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a small startup called "goTenna" is almost ready to make a bold debut two years in the making.

Designed primarily for emergency use -- but doubling as a recreational device -- the low power antenna communicates with a smartphone via the Bluetooth Low Energy (BTLE) specification.  The antenna uses low-frequency radio waves to send peer-to-peer text message via goTenna's proprietary apps and antenna hardware.

GoTenna has a patent pending on the device.

GoTenna

GoTenna closeup
Founder Daniela Perdomo said in a recent Wired interview that Hurricane Sandy, in part, inspired the new app:

I was thinking, ‘Is there any way to make cell phones communicate, so even in the worst case scenario like Sandy, when you have no power or Wi-Fi, you can still communicate?’

The only thing that does that is Bluetooth, and for that you have to be within 20 feet, so you might as well just speak loudly. We figured out that the only way to do that was an external piece of hardware.

In terms of people communicating when they don’t have service, on one end of the spectrum are walkie-talkies, and on the other are satellite communication devices, which are super expensive. 

Walkie-talkies are big clunky devices that people use at Disney World. You have to carry them in addition to your phone, they only let you do voice communication, you have to make sure you’re on the same channel, you hear everyone’s’ conversations—they’re annoying.

I do think there is something to decentralizing communication, to the idea that every person can be their synonymous node, and that you can create a communications system on your terms, on need as opposed to access

He said he worked carefully to craft a device that was portable and rugged enough for a disaster use, but also attractive enough to be an item carried daily and employed in recreational uses, as well.  He fashioned the device's final design by studying the look of various popular recreational gear at REI.

The finished device is made mostly of nylon and aluminum, with built in transmission and storage circuitry for the messages, plus the antenna.  It weighs ~2 oz. (56.7 g) and is 5 inches long (possibly the height of your Android smartphone).  It has a strap to easily attach to a backpack or purse:

GoTenna strap
GoTenna

Here are the key details of the functionality and hardware spec:

Key hardware specs 

  • Antenna
  • 2-watt radio
  • Flash memory good for 1000’s of messages
  • Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery
  • Micro-USB connector
  • BluetoothLE data interface
  • Status indicator lights
  • Water-resistant
  • Dust-tight

Key app features

  • Send & receive text messages for free
  • Share locations on detailed offline maps
  • Instantaneous transmission within range
  • Automatic message retry & delivery confirmation
  • Individual & group messaging
  • ”Shout” broadcasts to anyone within range
  • Proximal friend map & location pinging
  • Emergency chat
  • End-to-end encryption (RSA-1024) & self-destructing messages
  • Compatible with iOS & Android
To get started you download an app on your phone and program the antenna to have your number so it can properly route user-specific messages to you.  The app allows you to restrict access to it with a password on the device.  The phone stores the messages in the antenna memory, transferring them to the logged in user.  Aside from the shout and emergency messaging modes -- which are anonymous, open, and multi-user -- the device offers full 128-bit end-to-end encryption to protect your data.

GoTenna

The rechargable battery lasts for up to 3 days on, or up to a year off.  

GoTenna includes a range calculator which allows you to estimate your range in various environments at elevations.  In urban areas it appears you'll get 10-20 miles of range.  In outdoor environments the range may be as long as 40-50 miles in ideal conditions.

GoTenna range

While the device would clearly be useful for texting nearby loved ones in a disaster situation, it's important to remember that they must have a goAntenna and they must be in range as the device does not use traditional cellular networks or frequencies.  Aside from emergency use, goAntenna believes the device will be popular with users travelling in foreign countries (where messaging on traditional networks can lead to massive overages), users at concerts/social gatherings (perhaps looking to meet people), and hikers (in the backcountry where there's no power and little cellular coverage).

GoTenna backpacking

GoAntenna is selling antenna pairs for $150 USD ($75 USD per antenna) in a pre-order.  After the FCC approval and official launch, the price will jump to $299 ($150 USD per antenna).  Customers will also have the opportunity to receive and email to refer their friends.  For each friend they refer they get $10 off, up to the full cost of the antenna pair (so currently: refer 15 friends and you get a free pair).  You can buy the device in Green + Blue or Purple + Orange.

[All images courtesy of goTenna]

Sources: GoTenna [Pre-Order], [Faq], [How it Works], Wired



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meh
By Murloc on 7/17/2014 6:23:52 PM , Rating: 2
if it does not have massive adoption, it will end up being a useless gimmick because of lack of peers.
Given the cost and how useful it is (in 99% of people's lives there is wi-fi or cellular network), I don't see it taking off.
If you're in Vanautu you can't even communicate off island with it. It could work if the app abuses smartphones connected to wi-fi to send out the messages for the whole island though.

The cost makes it unlikely that people in countries that block SMSs during riots will buy it en masse.




RE: meh
By Spuke on 7/17/2014 8:41:16 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Given the cost and how useful it is (in 99% of people's lives there is wi-fi or cellular network), I don't see it taking off.
YOU don't see it being useful for YOU. Don't put others in that narrow alley too. Some of us either live or vacation rural areas and this is an awesome idea. Remember half the US doesn't live in downtown LA.


RE: meh
By marvdmartian on 7/18/2014 7:41:24 AM , Rating: 2
Well, actually, I can't see this being much good in rural areas, as the distances are generally longer than you'll find in urban areas. An area like NY City, for instance, will find most of its area covered by a 14 mile range. Go out into the country, you could exceed the device range quickly, depending on the terrain.

So far as emergency use while out in the wilderness, unless you have someone back at base camp with one of these, while you're out hiking or climbing that mountain you decided to conquer, it might be nothing more than an extra bit of weight hanging off your backpack. I'm thinking that, for emergencies, those emergency beacons (that utilize satellites) would be a better choice.


RE: meh
By Monkey's Uncle on 7/18/2014 9:50:06 AM , Rating: 2
Not so sure of that. If you are out plowing the back 40 on your 500 acre farm and you tractor flips over and pins you, It would be nice to call to the house for help.

But I am not so sure about the utility of these things since you need to have someone else using them for them to be useful. That being the case if the purpose is to call someone during a power-outage, then these might be a better solution:

https://midlandusa.com/two-way-radios/product/gxt1...

36-mile range @ $1900 US/pair.


RE: meh
By Monkey's Uncle on 7/18/2014 9:51:58 AM , Rating: 2
Typo @.@ --- $100 US/pair


RE: meh
By EricMartello on 7/20/2014 9:54:57 PM , Rating: 2
For anything based on peering, you need to be in close proximity to other peers. Think bit torrent - the popular torrents download very fast since they have lots of peers and seeds. Torrents that are not popular may never download since there are no peers or seeders to upload the data to you.

Also, line of sight is going to be an issue. Whether with those walkies or this thing - if you are in a hilly or mountainous area it's not going to have a very long effective range unless there are repeater antennas put in strategic locations. If you live in flyover country then you'll have no line-of-sight issues but you will have a lack of peers.


RE: meh
By Schrag4 on 7/21/2014 6:10:11 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Not so sure of that. If you are out plowing the back 40 on your 500 acre farm and you tractor flips over and pins you, It would be nice to call to the house for help.


The tractor gives you the luxury of carrying much larger, much more useful communication equipment. The guy I threw bales for when I was in high-school had his CB radio rigged up to accept phone calls from the house. It was pretty slick back when cell-phones were nearly non-existant, and it worked pretty darn well.


RE: meh
By bah12 on 7/18/2014 10:59:16 AM , Rating: 2
One use scenario might be easier search and resuce. Say a park like Yellowstone, you rent one and go hiking. Even if you are more than 40 miles away from base, once you turn this on the search party now has to only get within 40 mile of you instead of a few yards. Drastically increasing your odds of being found.

Still no where near as helpful as satellite based system (surely cheaper), but might help you get found. Of course you still have to be missing long enough for them to start looking.


RE: meh
By Qapa on 7/18/2014 9:56:35 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed, and if it needs a cell phone with battery, why not sell this to be integrated with cellphones, possibly at ~$50 extra and w/o the need to carry an extra thingy.

On a related note, Japan had (has?) cellphones that can establish calls without using the network if people are close (maybe 100 meters?). Example: you're shopping while the kids watch a movie at the same mall; you want to call a colleague in the same (college/work/school/...) campus; or tons of other scenarios as long as you're close; they call you so no network should be needed, and no network charges needed as well.

That is something that makes a lot of sense. Should exist everywhere (of course Telco companies might not like it, but phone companies and customers do!).

Now this would be just be something that would allow bigger range, possibly with less bandwidth over range (calls coud be possible up to X and further away only sms - which can really be useful in case of emergencies).


RE: meh
By name99 on 7/18/2014 1:22:50 PM , Rating: 2
There is also the fact that self-organizing meshes, at the very least for use in emergencies, are on the list of things 3GPP is working on. That may go nowhere, but I expect it eventually to generate results.

Of course this gives a solution today, and a solution that's useful for at least some groups of people. But long-term I expect this will disappear unless they can do something astonishing like persuade Apple to include one built into the frame of every iOS device. As Murloc says, for most people (ie people who are not hiking in the wilderness) this is only interesting if the mesh is dense enough.


RE: meh
By Moishe on 7/22/2014 2:19:00 PM , Rating: 2
This is a great idea. It's a fantastic idea in fact.

The possibilities for emergency communication are good. It's like the cellphone version of 2m ham radio.

Have one of these on you while hiking? I bet they could track you. The fact that it uses current cellphones is nice too. So it's a reasonably sized and priced device that offers a unique feature set that can save your bacon in the right situation.


By Hakuryu on 7/17/2014 10:57:00 PM , Rating: 2
We bring walkie talkies, which are not big or clunky, and they are waterproof, which isn't listed for this thing. They work great and I'm sure we'd get the same distance on 'ideal' terrain - flat and not around any power lines.

So now, we can text each other instead of instantly talking? Is this just a nerd invention for people that must text while they are camping?

I think needing another device is also a detriment. While camping, my phone stays at the trailhead with my phone in it; I've spent a week in heavy rain in Allegheny National Forest - not good for phones. Plus, it's just added weight; every ounce counts.

I could see the use at Disneyworld like mentioned, because it does look and sound cool, but in a disaster, cheap waterproof walkie talkies would be the smart way to go, or do you plan on giving out phones too?




By Ktracho on 7/18/2014 12:38:09 PM , Rating: 2
If there were a disaster, you would probably want to be able to talk to at least one person that you didn't know before the disaster happened, so walkie talkies, probably wouldn't help. Even going out hiking, if you got injured or fell down, you may want to get help from someone who doesn't happen to have a walkie talkie.


By delphinus100 on 7/19/2014 11:15:08 PM , Rating: 2
If by 'walkie talkies' you mean FRS and/or GMRS radios, there's a fair chance that you will.


By leexgx on 7/19/2014 11:15:30 PM , Rating: 2
others are more likely to have walkie talkies then having one of these devices (assuming no data/mobile networks), they can get help from some one els,

but for hiking/Emergency use this paired with a phone you can send a broadcast message (basic in the text is GPS location) and then disconnect from the device to save phone battery power,

but it would be interesting what the resend time is (if its Emergency chat is enabled does it keep sending for a bit, does it work like a beacon sending out the message to any new GoTenna in range)


By leexgx on 7/19/2014 11:22:33 PM , Rating: 2
but if was included with park rangers or in rescue choppers and the people had them when hiking or in snow hilly areas they could be very useful (unless they have there own silly priced locator beacon that most will not have)


By Moishe on 7/22/2014 2:22:28 PM , Rating: 2
The question is, in a disaster, how many people have walkie talkies? The odds are that this would be more popular than walkies if it took off because people feel like it's just an add-on for a daily used device, not a whole new set of devices.


Neat
By Spuke on 7/17/2014 4:56:05 PM , Rating: 2
I might just pick one of these up.




RE: Neat
By slow_excellence on 7/17/2014 5:09:58 PM , Rating: 2
I might too, even though I'll probably never have a use for it. $75 is a steal!


RE: Neat
By GTVic on 7/17/2014 8:26:42 PM , Rating: 2
If you also don't need 1728 BIC Retractable Highlighters, you can get these for $950, a savings of over $500 at Bulk Office Supply.


RE: Neat
By Monkey's Uncle on 7/17/2014 5:18:14 PM , Rating: 2
Be sure to get a pair of them. They only communicate with each other. Solo they really don't do an awful lot.


RE: Neat
By Spuke on 7/17/2014 8:37:08 PM , Rating: 2
I figured as much but thanks for the reminder anyways.


no power?
By hughlle on 7/18/2014 5:29:21 AM , Rating: 2
When you have no power, the only solution is bluetooth. When you have no power.

I re-read the article, and it doesn't appear that this doubles up as an external battery, so how exactly does this work if your phone has no power? Can anyone explain this for me?




RE: no power?
By bigboxes on 7/18/2014 8:16:23 AM , Rating: 2
When the (power) grid goes down you have no power. Your cell phone will still need to be charged up. The article was referencing when the cell towers are down and no WiFi.


RE: no power?
By domboy on 7/18/2014 8:49:26 AM , Rating: 2
I agree, the way the article talks about "no power" is rather confusing. For example the line "and hikers (in the backcountry where there's no power and little cellular coverage)" you'd almost think it was talking about something that doubles either as an external battery pack or a solar charger or something. But by the sound of it this device is useless if your phone has no power... unless the device will store text messages (which the specs indicate it might) until you get your phone back on.


RE: no power?
By Reclaimer77 on 7/18/2014 9:52:29 AM , Rating: 2
Oh no the power is out and my smartphone is almost dead! We're going to die!!!!!

Oh wait...nevermind

*walks out to car and charges phone*


Nifty idea
By Argon18 on 7/17/2014 5:18:39 PM , Rating: 2
Amateur radio operators have been enjoying the long distance benefits of low frequency radio waves for decades. Not just tens of miles, but thousands. Want to talk to Europe from USA, without touching any wired infrastructure? No problem. This is nothing new. And Amateur radio has had digital packet-based communications for years as well, with the ability to send text and even pictures.

Applying this idea text messaging from a cell phone, using a phone app and external antenna is a nifty idea. It could be done better with a stand alone device, but since most folks already have a cell phone in their pocket, it's a reasonable compromise.

Where I see this device falling short, is in the claims of emergency preparedness. This device has a sealed proprietary internal battery. So just like that old iPod from 2007 in your junk drawer, it's no longer going to hold a charge after just a few years. To be a useful emergency tool, it has to have commodity power source. AA batteries would have been perfect. Oh well. Maybe in version 2.




RE: Nifty idea
By Omega215D on 7/18/2014 12:53:45 AM , Rating: 2
Don't know about you but my 3rd gen iPod Touch from 2009 is still holding a good charge and so is my sister's iPod Touch 1st Gen.

Heck I still have a Motorola Razr that can still last about a day with its original battery.

I could see these surviving more than two years and the cost of these items aren't that high to begin with. You can buy a set for the most important people you keep in touch with.


RE: Nifty idea
By Piiman on 7/19/2014 1:46:14 PM , Rating: 2
"Applying this idea text messaging from a cell phone, using a phone app and external antenna is a nifty idea."

It would be even niftier if they put it on a chip and put it IN the phone.


my take
By phrenzy on 7/26/2014 12:56:46 PM , Rating: 2
I think what a lot of you here are missing is that the fact that this uses packet data with delivery confirmation means your going to get MUCH further range than trying to use voice over the same distance with the same power. It can keep sending the little beep until it gets through, imagine the difference between hearing a Morse code beep over a crackling transmission vs hearing a discernable voice message. 40 miles in almost any conditions is indeed optimistic but I would bet dollars to doughnuts that you could get better range of a system like this with 2w than getting decent speech through at the sane distance with a 5w hand held.

I don't know about using it in an emergency but using it in places the cell network is overwhelmed is definately a go, think burning man style festivals or times square on new years, try getting a call out there. I doubt you would get much joy trying to use a cb at either of those places with all the traffic likely going on. Also my sister and girlfriend are going to India next year, their network is cooky, you buy a sim card in one place and it may or may not work somewhere else, if they get seperated in a crowd they can talk to each other and send each other their locations, they won't be able to download a map but they will get a compass style pointer to get them together. They will likely be going on a cruise too, definately out of cell range but they can stay in touch on a big ship.

The proof will be in the range, does the packet radio system/Antena efficiency for transmission and sensitivity give you serious range advantages over voice transmission? From what I know about the ability of aprs and morse I wouldn't be surprised if it did. I would be very interested in a slightly larger 5W version with a bigger/replaceable battery pack, possibly with a long plastic coated coiled antenna you could unravel and string up for extra range if desired.

Somebody asked if it was waterproof and yes it is ruggadised fir splash/dust. I checked thoroughly before I bought. At $150 per/$300 a pair it's possibly a bit expensive but at $150 a pair it's a cool novelty that might prove to have seriously helpful applications.

P.S I can see the peer to peer encrypted communication system appealing to the paranoid, the criminal and the curious. Given the apparent high level encryption (says 128bit here though 1024bit on the website, not sure which is true) and the self deleting messages on reading this could quickly become the must have item for militia men and corner drug dealers.




RE: my take
By phrenzy on 7/26/2014 1:13:09 PM , Rating: 2
I forgot to say that it's a terrible shame that the fcc prohibits mesh networks in applications like this, I believe that was part of the original intention forr this. You would only need a few every couple miles before you would start to be able to begin communicating over pretty serious differences. This would be particularly helpful in big cities, you might personally get crappy reception on the street but if your a half mile from someone who lives in a 30th floor apartment who can act as a repeater, suddenly you have his great range.

If it uses some clever routing algorithms you might not even see a huge traffic increase if it got really popular and you lived somewhere crowded as it should only need to be retransmitted by a single user in range... unless you live in a bottleneck like the edge of body of water or on to of a building but if you could switch it off to opt out abd save your battery it would be a very cool option.

Anyhow I bought one and the more I think about it the more things I can think to use with it.


By CharonPDX on 7/17/2014 6:31:47 PM , Rating: 2
I wonder if this just uses the GMRS/FRS band, (the band used by the common "family walkie-talkies" out there.) Those often claim rather long distances - up to 50 miles - when in reality in most environments, you're lucky to get 2.




Make it a Ad Hoc network relay
By mlmiller1 on 7/18/2014 5:01:23 PM , Rating: 2
If it could daisy chain (hop) from one antenna to the next to get to their destination, then an entire park could be covered with a few adopters. Locate a few fixed antennas to help cover an area... Or just get one of those cell phone booster, relay, femtocell things and skip the middle man.




By Tessel8 on 7/18/2014 8:06:37 PM , Rating: 2
One of the stated benefits is to allow travelers to communicate while traveling in foreign countries. Having doing a good bit of traveling, it would be nice to have a no-charge way to use some messaging and comms.

However, wouldn't this device need to be licensed by the equivalent of the FCC in every country? Is the band that it is using available in all of those countries?




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