In times in which staying connected is urgently needed, a New York startup is putting forth alternative technologies for the decentralization of telecommunications, which the company believes can be used to save lives during natural disasters, or in risky situations in remote areas where there is no traditional cellular coverage.
The idea first arose in November of 2012, when Hurricane Sandy (a category 3 superstorm, the largest ever out of the Atlantic, being 1850 km in diameter) left millions of people in the United States without communication services, approximately 25% of cellular infrastructure across 10 states being affected, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The hurricane also caused considerable interruptions in electricity and internet services.
That was when Jorge and Daniela Perdomo, Brazilian siblings who founded goTenna in Brooklyn, decided to search for connectivity solutions independent of traditional cellular or WiFi, and even satellites. And they found those solutions in mesh networks, a LAN construction based on auto-routing nodes that connect to each other directly and dynamically, without any hierarchical structure, in which the nodes are independent of each other and which there is no central node. That way, if one node fails, a message can redirect itself towards the closest available node, without its sending being interrupted or the user having to restart the entire process.The result is a highly reliable network, one unlike the common ones of today characterized by the high cost of network infrastructure and the complexity of the devices compatible with them.
goTenna is a company focused on developing portable devices that simplify things in this sense. Not just by devices that are lighter, but by devices that are more economical and easier to use than other equipment that utilize mesh networks.
One type of its devices is the goTenna Pro, which sell in pairs so at minimum two persons connect with them, connecting them to their smartphones using Bluetooth. Through a free and intuitive application which comes in both iOS and Android versions, users pair their devices with their phones, to then be able to communicate in a point to point manner, similar to that of walkie-talkies, but only with text messaging (which do not need to be paid for) within a range of something between 15 to 80 kilometers, being that goTenna employs ultrahigh frequency radio waves to be able to establish a connection and its consequent mesh network.
The variability of the reach is due to interference that can lie in its surroundings, undoubtedly meaning that these devices function with better reach in wide open spaces than in cities and other congested terrain. So, in practice, goTenna devices do not only serve as a method of communication for emergencies in critical situations (firefighters and rescue personnel use them often (Pro), but also to maintain in communication groups of mountain climbers and hikers, as well as friends at music festivals or other massive events where cellular networks can become saturated. They can also become the primary method of communication in areas totally deprived of mobile and internet coverage.
They can also be used by the military during tactical operations in hostile environments, and to allow remote access to data and to maintain open lines of communication for companies when there are interruptions in service, which can often result in large monetary losses.
By not necessitating the intervention of traditional antennas, goTenna devices can guarantee connectivity when those signals are not present or are too weak or ineffective. Their system of continual resending permits the assurance of the sending and receiving of highly encrypted text messages between two people or of groups, as well as the ability to share location and routes in the various offline maps in the application. goTenna Plus is a subscription that allows for automatic sending of location every one, five, or ten minutes - as well as other capabilities. The device charges in just three hours and the battery lasts between 9 and 27 hours (depending on the model).
But, what happens if we find ourselves out of range? The working of the mesh network would come into play here: goTenna devices are prepared to use other users with connected device as nodes, such that the message can jump from one to another until reaching its intended recipient. The same is the case when physical obstacles lie in the path of the message; if it can go around them via resorting to another node to retake the journey, it will do so. Also, included in goTenna Plus, one can contact persons outside of the network, utilizing nodes of others who have cellular signals to send the message in SMS form to the desired recipient.
goTenna was financed primarily through crowdfunding, and has since raised more than 40 million dollars thanks to investors such as Founders Fund, Comcast Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Collaborative Fund, Walden VC and MentorTech.