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 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

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.


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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