If you’re planning an adventure ride into the deep beyond, you’re probably thinking about ways to get the word out if you run into trouble. That’s the reason satellite-based products like SPOT Satellite Messenger and Garmin’s inReach exist. As long as there’s open sky above you, help is just the press of a button away.
But what if your adventure is a little less extreme? What if you’re in the wilderness and want to round up a lost member of your team? What if you’re part of a group that deliberately split up, has no cell towers within reach, but still wants to stay in touch?
That’s the niche which goTenna is hoping to fill. The little four-ounce device creates a 1-watt, UHF, limited-area radio network with other users. The device works by connecting with your telephone via Bluetooth. You can then type out chat or text messages and send them to anyone you’ve established a link with. You can also share GPS data. All you have to do is download their free app, enter an ID number (typically your telephone number), set-up a connection with another user and type away. It even works if your phone is in airplane mode. The app also has free, downloadable maps that you can use offline.
The basic goTenna will only link individual users. The goTenna Mesh takes it a step further. It creates a larger network by bouncing your signal off of other goTenna Mesh users (but not folks with the standard goTenna, since the two use different radio frequencies,) making it possible to have group chats.
There’s also a network-wide emergency function, which sends your unencrypted “help me” message through to everyone who’s in range.
Speaking of range, goTenna claims it’s four miles in the great outdoors, and about a mile in town. In practice, those numbers can vary as widely as the environments in which the device is used. With line of sight for miles and miles, you might get a signal to go much further than four miles. On a cruise ship, surrounded by heavy metal, you may be completely cut off.
The goTenna comes with a rechargeable Lithium-polymer battery that they claim has a 24-hour life under normal usage. Since nobody knows what normal usage is, your mileage may vary considerably.
The goTenna is sold in pairs, with prices ranging from around $145 to $180.