What if you could communicate via your smartphone in an area with no service? A startup called goTenna aims to make that possible with a new device that enables users to send texts and share locations without any need for central connectivity.

Daniela Perdomo, co-founder and CEO of goTenna, spoke to International Business Times about how the Brooklyn-based startup plans to deliver on its “no service, no problem” mantra.

What is goTenna?

goTenna GoTenna is a small, rugged device that allows a person to use their smartphone to send and receive messages and share their GPS location with others when there is no central connectivity. Photo: goTenna

GoTenna is a small, rugged device that allows a person to use his/her smartphone to send and receive text messages and share GPS locations with other users when there is no central connectivity. The device is made to be used in a variety of situations, like when a user is hiking in a remote area, traveling abroad, or attending music or sporting events, or even during an emergency.

“GoTenna is a device that pairs wirelessly with your phone and allows you to communicate with anyone who also has it, even if you don’t have service,” Perdomo told IBTimes. “It uses literally no cell tower, no Wi-Fi router and no satellites. It’s completely direct communication between smartphones.”

Perdomo and goTenna co-founder Jorge Perdomo came up with the idea for the startup after dealing with the devastation and lack of cell service on the East Coast from Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

“We actually came up with it during Hurricane Sandy when one-fourth of all cell towers went down,” Perdomo added. “Of course, power was out too, which meant a lot of people didn’t have Wi-Fi either. So we started thinking, 'Is there a way that we can enable smartphone-to-smartphone communication without ever having to worry about what’s happening to central connectivity?' And that’s goTenna.”

How goTenna Works

goTenna GoTenna’s free app allows a user to send text messages or share locations to any other goTenna user within range. Photo: goTenna

A user can pair her smartphone to her goTenna device wirelessly using BluetoothLE within 20 feet of the phone so the two can communicate with each other. It works on both iPhone and Android as long as the smartphone is running the latest operating system.  

“Your smartphone is a very powerful device that you have on you all of the time, but unfortunately, it’s completely useless in terms of communication unless you are able to plug in to some kind of connectivity,” Perdomo said. "We think that goTenna allows you to essentially be an autonomous node where you can communicate regardless of where you are or what’s happening to central infrastructure.”

While a user cannot make calls with the device, goTenna’s free app allows him to send text messages or share locations with any other goTenna user within range, and it also works if a smartphone is in airplane mode.

The device’s range can reach up to 50 miles, depending on geography, such as terrain and elevation. If a user is in a less-congested, elevated environment -- say, he's skiing on a mountain -- goTenna’s range could reach to nearly 50 miles. Whereas if a user is at a big music festival, like Coachella, the device could reach up to about 9 miles, Perdomo said. In New York City, the device would have a range of about a half-mile to a mile. 

“We think what we’re working on is really important because we’ve enabled a way for people to really take communications into their own hands,” Perdomo said.

The company said messages sent over goTenna are end-to-end encrypted with RSA-1024 public-private key ciphering. The goTenna website said the only exception are messages sent using the shout and emergency features, "which are by definition public conversations with others within range of you.”

goTenna Launches Pre-Order Campaign

goTenna GoTenna launched in July with a special 50 percent off pre-order price of $149.99 for two devices and will later retail for $299.99 per pair. Photo: goTenna

GoTenna launched in July with a special 50 percent off pre-order price of $149.99 for two devices and will later retail for $299.99 per pair. Two micro-USB cables are also included with a purchase to recharge the goTennas. The device is expected to ship to customers in the U.S. and Canada later this fall.

“We’ve been told so far that the way communication works is that you plug in to really expensive infrastructure that is run by a few very powerful companies,” Perdomo said. “The idea of taking communications into your own hands and being able to communicate on your own terms, whether you’re in the middle of a desert somewhere with one other person or you’re in the middle of a huge event, is really powerful.”

GoTenna closed its first round of seed funding at the end of 2013 for $1.8 million.

“I think there’s a lot of different ways that a decentralized communication technology can be used even if we’re just starting with smartphones and mobile messaging. The technology can be applied in so many different ways,” Perdomo said. “In fact, we see it as a platform and we’re excited to see what people do with it.”