Startup GoTenna aims to enable off-the-grid communications

A new wireless-hardware startup, GoTenna, has a novel approach to a worrying problem: What if you're stranded deep in the woods on a hike and get hurt and do not have a satellite phone or any cell service?

The company's solution is a thin, 2-ounce, 6-inch-long wand that can be strapped to a person and has a slide-out antenna. The gadget connects to iPhones and Android phones via Bluetooth low energy. The device then transmits the data to other GoTennas through proprietary protocols, which then send the data over Bluetooth to the phone connected to other GoTennas.

As such, the device is only really useful for sending out texts and GPS coordinates, but that's exactly what it is designed to do, to help someone reach others if they are stranded. More importantly, as GigaOM notes, it's also capable of sending data very far distances because of the ultra-low-band frequencies it uses, at 151-154 MHz. That gives the device extremely strong propagation characteristics and compares favorably to commercial cell signals; right now the lowest-band commercial cell networks operate at around 700 MHz.

CEO and co-founder Daniela Perdomo told GigaOM that GoTenna's range is limited only by the horizon, meaning its signals can travel up to nine miles in open environments. If a person was in a heavily wooded area, the signal would travel a shorter distance, but still about four miles. But if a person on a mountaintop had a clear view of a horizon way off in the distance, GoTenna's signals could travel as far as 50 miles.

"That's just the science of radio waves. We are operating at the limits of physics," Perdomo told CNET. "If the Earth was curved a different way, you could get more miles than that."

Perdomo formed the company with her brother and now-CTO, Jorge Perdomo, in the aftermath of 2012's Hurricane Sandy, when downed cell towers left many in the Northeast without a way to contact friends and family.

The company also created a messaging and location-sharing app complete with high-resolution downloadable maps for referencing transmitted location data. The device will start shipping in the fall, and GoTenna is taking pre-orders on its website. The gadget cost is $150 for two devices, since it takes two devices to form a peer-to-peer network.

The company's communication network can operate without connecting to a central server and can be expanded as more GoTennas are added to the network, Perdomo said. "Some of the more interesting and novel stuff we're doing is on the network layer," she told CNET. "The number-one thing is how do we make this work without any central server--every one single person being their own autonomous node."

For more:
- see this CNET article
- see this GigaOM article
- see this TechCrunch article
- see this VentureBeat article

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