If you have a cellphone, this is probably a familiar scenario: you can’t send a text because either there are no cell towers close enough to your location to pick up service, or the system is so overloaded by users that your information isn’t going through. It’s an inconvenience to be sure, but usually it’s just a temporary problem.
But what about during a hurricane — or even during a non-emergency situation like camping or hiking in the deep woods? Sometimes it’s not only convenient, but immediately necessary, to get a message to first responders or anyone in the local area.
Enter goTenna: a gadget to enable users to communicate without the need for any central connectivity — no Wi-Fi, cell towers or satellites needed.
“When you are completely off the grid, you can remain connected,” co-founder Daniela Perdomo told TheBlaze. “In fact, goTenna will work even if your smartphone is in airplane mode.”
The gadget uses long-range radio waves — between 151-154 MHz — to send messages to other goTenna devices within its range. Depending on the surrounding terrain and elevation, the device can send messages up to 50 miles away. But if you happen to be a city dweller with dozens of concrete and steel buildings in between you and your buddy, the range shrinks to roughly 1 mile.
“We’ve chosen that vHf frequency — which is much lower than Wi-Fi or or walkie-talkies, and that means we can propagate a lot easier,” Perdomo explained. “It doesn’t have to be line of site, it can turn corners, it can bounce off buildings and it can even go through matter, so it will allow for the greatest range in most unobstructed situations.”
Users have the option to either select individual friends to chat with, or they can send emergency messages to any goTenna user within their radio wave radius. Perdomo said this feature was especially inspired by the days following Superstorm Sandy, when a quarter of all cell towers in the areas of New York and New Jersey affected by the storm were down, and while the electric grid blackout knocked out Wi-Fi capabilities as well.
“We worked with community groups in areas that were really hard hit by the storm … and it was just amazing to learn through testing and feedback from them that during the storm what might have been most helpful was the ability to simply just communicate with their neighbors,” she said. “Unfortunately, in big cities you don’t always know your neighbors or the people around you, but they can be the most helpful people to you in an emergency — even if it’s just to say I have water, you have power, let’s join forces.”
Perdomo said goTenna has worked with nonprofit emergency response groups like Doctors Without Borders and Team Rubicon — groups that often have to work in areas that have seen devastating damage to electricity and communications infrastructure.
[sharequote align=”center”]Users can chat with friends, or send emergency signals to all goTenna users in the area …[/sharequote]
“This is definitely a solution for emergency situations, but it’s also ideal for simple things, like traveling overseas or being on a cruise ship; you can communicate with your friends without having to spend extra money to roam on a cellular network,” Perdomo explained. “Realistically it will work anywhere because it emits it’s own signal.”
Perdomo told TheBlaze that they have already sold several thousand units in tech-friendly areas like Silicon Valley, but they’ve also sold several goTennas to users in places like Alaska, Utah, Hawaii and Wyoming: “Places where having bad [cell] service is part of every day life,” Perdomo said. “I think that shows we are solving a real problem.”
Perdomo said goTenna is currently available for pre-order at a 50 percent off the standard price: orders taken now — you can get two goTennas for just under $150 — will ship this winter.
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