GoTenna: How does this 'magic' work?

An ideal product if you believe the Earth is flat

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

You may have been hearing about a well-nigh miraculous device called GoTenna lately - a gadget which, apparently, lets your phone work even if there's no network coverage to be had.

GoTenna is a two-way radio for mobile phones: it pairs with an Android or iOS device using Bluetooth and uses 151-154 MHz radio to communicate with the outside world. It is in effect replacing the finely crafted radio which is integrated into the design of the rest of your mobile phone with one produced by a startup.

Once then, it will only talk to another device which is similarly equipped: and which, due to its low bandwidth, can only send text messages.

goTenna from goTenna on Vimeo.

Given that cellular phones have potentially no limit on their range, GoTenna is understandably paranoid about this and has gone to great lengths to explain radio propagation and how, in the right circumstances – perhaps you're suspended beneath a balloon above the ocean, communicating with a fellow GoTenna user standing on the superstructure of a ship on the horizon - you might get 50 miles' range.

“That's just the science of radio waves. We are operating at the limits of physics," GoTenna co-founder and CEO Daniela Perdomo enthuses, adding: "If the Earth was curved a different way, you could get more miles than that."

To be sure: if the Earth was flat, for instance.

But hey, the GoTenna isn't just for Flat-Earthers. Your phone speaks to the GoTenna, the GoTenna to another GoTenna which then speaks to that owner’s phone.

The device can send and receive text messages from one GoTenna user to another. These are GoTenna messages – much like BBM, ICQ or What’s App and are sent from and to a dedicated GoTenna app – they are not SMS format text messages. These messages can contain location information which can then locate people on an offline map.

The thought being, if you are somewhere without mobile connectivity – like the wilds of Cambridgeshire – you can send a message, see where your friends are etc. Since it isn’t using the mobile network this message will be free – although enough tariffs offer unlimited texts that that’s not much of a selling point. It’s encrypted and secure, and with a number of GoTennae you can do broadcasts. Messages are, like SMS, stored and forwarded, so if you are sent a message and your phone is off the text will be held in the GoTenna until the app is powered on. It’s notable that the GoTenna can't support voice and data rates are very limited. Because it’s expected that devices at both ends are offline there is no communication to the mobile network and the world outside through that.

It's pretty limited niche product, then, and at the moment it isn't even real - it's just an idea. Also it's an idea which would require a lot of knowledge of the technology to be a success, and in this respect you do have to wonder a little about the people behind GoTenna. They blithely state:

In fact, goTenna will even work if your smartphone is in “Airplane Mode”! How does this magic work?

Naturally, in flight mode your phone's Bluetooth will be disabled and so you will not be able to interface with the GoTenna.

So perhaps it's worth taking the other GoTenna claims with a pinch of salt too. ®


A PR from GoTenna gets in touch with El Reg to point out that the firm is not using Kickstarter as its sole means of funding - wannabe customers can also order direct through their website - and that a concept device has been shown to ABC News.

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