Gotenna is a personal, portable antenna that pairs with a smartphone via Bluetooth and steps in whenever you’re off-grid, cell service is poor, or you feel the need for an extra layer of privacy.
It’s not a replacement for the cellular network, and it’s not a mesh network–Gotenna is more like a walkie-talkie for texting. It sends out long-range radio signals (on 151-154 MHz frequencies) to broadcast text messages and share locations with other Gotenna users. There’s no voice service and no data connection, but as long as you and your friends each have a Gotenna and are in range of one another, you’ll be able to send individual and group messages back and forth without relying on cell towers, satellites, or any other infrastructure. The device speaks the need for our connected devices to be able to operate in the future when cloud service connectivity go down.
The range of Gotenna’s signals will vary a lot depending on the terrain you’re in, how high up you are, and whether there are trees, buildings, mountains, or other obstructions in the way. A handy-dandy range calculator on the company’s website suggests that it could reach up to 50 miles under ideal conditions, though at street level in the middle of Manhattan it’s more likely to be a mile or less. If your phone runs out of battery the device will continue to receive and store messages for you.
Though almost anyone would benefit from having a Gotenna every now and then, the device seems to be designed around two primary use cases. The first is for maintaining communication when you’re adventuring off-grid, or during an emergency when the power is out or the cell network goes down. The smartphone app offers free offline maps (you’ll need to download them ahead of time) that are detailed enough to show city blocks and even individual trails in national parks, so as long as you have Gotenna and a GPS signal it should be easy to keep a backpacking group together.
The second use case is for urban activists who need to coordinate even when the cell network is congested or is shut down by a government, and for whom privacy is paramount. Gotenna messages use RSA-1024 end-to-end encryption, and can only be decrypted with the private key stored on the user’s smartphone. They can even be set to “self-destruct” like a Snapchat after they’re read. And because the signals are sent directly from one Gotenna to another without a central server or other intermediaries, messages and location data aren’t stored anywhere that a third party could gain access to them.
Additional features include the ability to “shout” an unencrypted message to all Gotennas in range, which users can opt out of receiving, and a similar “emergency” broadcast that is guaranteed to reach anyone nearby. Gotenna pairs over Bluetooth Low Energy, and promises up to 30 hours of continuous use on its rechargeable batteries. The 6-inchs-long device is dust- and weather-proof.
Gotenna is sold in pairs, since after all you’ll need someone to communicate with, and preorders will begin shipping in late fall 2014 (pending final FCC approval). Check out the video below to learn more.