If you’ve ever had a cell phone, you know how frustrating it can be when your network fails. Areas with little to no signal can be absolutely infuriating, and overcrowded events can be just as bad. To sidestep this problem, the folks at GoTenna have developed their own ad-hoc network for sending messages. It’s an incredible concept, but with an asking price higher than most smartphones, there’s no way that this implementation is going to take off anytime soon.
The GoTenna is essentially a small, low-power radio transceiver. It’s powered by a lithium-ion battery, and it connects to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth. The company behind GoTenna is rather vague about the technical specifications of the device, but given the max claimed range, it probably transmits on a very low frequency. GoTenna creates an ad-hoc, encrypted network between any other GoTennas in range. It’s kind of like a smartphone equivalent of a CB radio.
You can connect the GoTenna to any iOS or Android device via Bluetooth. After that, all you have to do is download the GoTenna app and fire off a message to anyone else who might be in range. Depending on your elevation and environment, the signal can travel upwards of 50 miles. By default, only your intended recipient will be able to read your message, but a “shout” feature allows messaging any GoTenna user within range. It doesn’t use cell towers or WiFi at all, so it’ll work even if all other forms of communication are unavailable.
In the video embedded above, the GoTenna team lays out a number of use cases for this device. People out in the boonies without cell signal and people at crowded events are the target demographic here, but it does require that everyone buys into the GoTenna platform. If you’re the only one with this radio in your pocket, it’s not going to do you a lick of good.
Currently, the GoTenna is being offered for pre-order at a cost of $150 per pair. Once enough units are sold to fund the initial production run, the price will jump up to $300 per pair. I’m sure that it’s quite expensive to get this handy gadget produced, but that price point just isn’t low enough for mainstream success. Only the most hardcore hikers and gadget enthusiasts will be willing to drop $300 on this device. It’s a clever idea, but its limited utility doesn’t justify that kind of expense for most people.
Frankly, this kind of tech would probably be a lot better if it was built into smartphones. An ad-hoc or mesh network for messaging sounds incredibly useful, but it will take a company like Apple or Google to bring that concept to the mainstream. If this functionality was just baked into every iPhone or Galaxy S, it would make a lot more sense for consumers. As it stands, this expensive smartphone accessory seems to be little more than a novel curiosity.