A wireless mesh network once exclusive to Canadian special forces is going mainstream with the help of goTenna Mesh.
The Brooklyn-based startup goTenna has chosen Canada for its first international retail launch, partnering with Amazon.ca, Sport Chek and London Drugs who will start selling goTenna Mesh by the end of the year.
Daniela Perdomo was inspired to launch goTenna five years ago when Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the Northeast United States. The storm took down one-third of all cell towers in the region. Living in New York City, Perdomo recalled how the city was completely disconnected when communication was needed most.
“That had me thinking, why isn’t the phone that I have on me on all the time enabling essential communication when infrastructure is down?” she said. “A phone is designed, and even intentionally crippled, to only work when plugged into an ISP or cellular carrier. I thought there has to be a better way.”
The communication blackouts sparked Perdomo to create devices that could power off-grid communication in a resilient and affordable way, without cell service or wifi. GoTenna’s first device essentially turned a smartphone into a modern walkie-talkie. Paired with a phone over Bluetooth, goTenna helped users send text messages to someone else’s phone—paired with goTenna—a few kilometres away.
But the product has restrictions, only working when paired phones are within a certain range. That’s something the next generation version, dubbed the goTenna Mesh, is solving.
Launched in the U.S. this past summer, the newest devices can create a mesh network where messages can be privately routed through goTenna Mesh nodes—devices paired with smartphones. Essentially, goTenna Mesh allows text messages to automatically hop between phones over far distances until it gets to the intended person.
Perdomo said GoTenna Mesh is powering the world’s first completely off-grid, long-range, user-powered mesh network.
“The existing mesh network systems are expensive and limited to special forces in Canada and the United States, but it wasn’t built to be used by consumers,” she said. “Part of the innovation that we’ve done here is make this technology accessible to anyone with a phone.”
Perdomo said the company has sold just under 100,000 goTenna Mesh devices since they started shipping the devices a few months ago. The device has also passed regulatory certification in over 40 countries.
More so, Perdomo said unpaired Mesh devices can be left anywhere to act as an additional node, helping to relay messages to anyone within the mesh network. The more people using goTenna Meshes, the stronger and bigger the off-grid network becomes.
It’s easy to see how this device could be helpful during blackouts, camping trips in remote areas and even travelling, but the goTenna Mesh has recently been harnessed for disaster relief efforts. When Hurricane Maria knocked out most of Puerto Rico’s telecommunications infrastructure, Perdomo heard from a civilian volunteer in San Juan asking her to donate goTenna Meshes to help them create a pilot mesh network.
That one call for help has since expanded into a non-profit called PR Reconnects with the goal of setting up a network that can connect all 15 municipalities in the region.
“We’re focused on short-burst communications, but that in many cases that is what people need most,” said Perdomo.
But Perdomo doesn’t want goTenna Mesh to only be used when cellular grids are down.
“My hope is it becomes a mainstream idea,” said Perdomo, citing how we’ve embraced solar panels to generate energy, charging a car with a battery instead of gas. “I’m suggesting why don’t we think of other core infrastructures in the same way?
The goTenna Mesh ships for free in Canada and is currently being sold online for $249 for a two-pack, $458 for a four-pack and $806 for an eight-pack. Canadians can see a portion of who has ordered Meshes both in the country and around the world through a network map by goTenna.