Finding ways to stay in communication with your traveling companions when cell service is too expensive, unreliable, or completely nonexistent can be a real challenge. That's why a company called goTenna created a device that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth that allows you to send messages and share your location with one another, even when you're completely off the grid. We took this gadget for a test drive a while back and found it to be a great way to keep in contact both in urban and backcountry environments. GoTenna now has a second-generation model that promises more robust communications and expanded the range, making it an even better choice for adventure travelers.
How It Works
The goTenna Mesh,.originally launched on Kickstarter, functions much like its first generation counterpart. Users pair it with their smartphone using Bluetooth wireless technology and install a special goTenna app on their devices as well. That app allows them to send messages directly to other goTenna users on either a one-on-one basis or as a group text. They can even send public messages that will be seen by any goTenna user in range, or they can pass along their GPS location, which shows up on an offline map of the area.
All in all, the system works very well, with only the range of the goTenna device limiting its usefulness. The original goTenna was capable of broadcasting up to 1 mile away in cities – where competing radio waves limit the distance – or 4 miles in the backcountry where interference is at a minimum. The new Mesh offers similar ranges in urban locations and is capable of broadcasting out to about 3 miles elsewhere.
With the introduction of the Mesh, goTenna has moved away from using VHF radio transmitters in favor of UHF instead. This brings a number of benefits to the table, not the least of which is a more adaptable system that can function better in a wider variety of environments. It also allows the company to sell their device in foreign markets for the first time, meeting pent-up demand from international customers.
But beyond that, this device has another important and useful trick up its sleeve. The Mesh uses new technology that allows it to not only broadcast messages that originate on the device itself, but also rebroadcast signals that are sent its way. In this way, a network of sorts is created that has the potential to extend the range for many additional miles depending on how many goTenna devices are within range of one another.
When using the original goTenna a message would be broadcasted out to all devices within range, and if the message was intended for that specific receiver, he or she would see it displayed on their smartphone. The Mesh works in a similar fashion, but when it receives a message that isn't necessarily meant for the person using it, the device also has the ability to rebroadcast it out again to other Mesh units nearby. In this way, a message could hop from one goTenna Mesh to the next until it reaches the person it is intended for, even if they are many miles away from the original sender.
In addition to launching the Mesh, goTenna also announced a new service called goTenna Plus. This service provides some unique new functionality to users including more detailed topographical maps, the ability to gather statistics about your trip, including speed and distance traveled, as well as the option to send someone an alert on your current location at a predetermined interval. goTenna Plus even includes group delivery notifications for up to six people and the option to use a cell phone network to relay messages on to other goTenna users.