Cellphones are a revolutionary way to communicate, but they don't work 100% of the time. Maybe you're out of cell range while on a hike, a natural disaster has taken out the local towers, you're in a crowded area and the cell towers are jammed with traffic, or you're in another country with an incompatible network. How do you communicate with nearby friends and family?
You could pick up walkie-talkies or a CB radio. These can get a signal out, but then you're worrying about extra equipment, and they aren't strong on privacy. Anyone on the same frequency can listen in or interrupt. A startup named goTenna thinks it has a better solution.
The goTenna is a light (1.8 ounces), thin (1 inch), collapsible antenna (extends from 5.8 inches to 8 inches when in use). It's water-resistant and dust-tight. You can attach it to a backpack, belt, or anywhere else you need it with the built-in Velcro strap.
The unit contains a 2-watt VHF radio that can send out a signal up to one mile in a city and four miles outdoors with clear sight lines. But how does that help you?
Like walkie-talkies, your goTenna can link up with any other goTennas in range; they're actually sold as pairs. However, the goTenna has a few advantages over walkie-talkies.
Simply pair the goTenna up to a phone or tablet using Bluetooth-LE and fire up the goTenna app available for Android and iOS. You can then send encrypted text messages (it uses 224-bit encryption) to other goTenna users. You can have a secure 1-on-1 conversation with a specific goTenna user, a secure chat with a custom group of goTenna users, or you can broadcast a message to any goTennas in range.
Because goTenna uses text messages, it allows for message delivery notifications, and you can look back at previous messages.
The goTenna app also includes detailed offline maps. You can drop a pin at your location on the map and share it with people near you to help them find you. That's great if you get separated from your group while you're on a hike.
The goTenna claims 20+ hours of battery life on standby, and it uses a microUSB port for charging, so if you have a portable backup battery along you can charge it up with the rest of your gadgets.
The cost is a little high at $199 for a pair of goTennas. You could buy a set of walkie-talkies for much less, but the secure communication aspect could be worth it, especially if you want to casually text with friends or family who live nearby.