A new tool for disasters: The personal antenna

Communications are independent of cellular networks

A New York start-up, goTenna, has created a portable antenna that may just save the day when cellular service is unavailable.

The portable antenna connects to a smartphone via a Bluetooth Low Energy connection. Users with an app on either iOS or Android can then send text messages through the antenna. (The recipient must also have a goTenna, and consequently the product is sold in pairs.)

The device uses the 151MHz-154MHz frequencies, with range depending on location. In highly dense Manhattan, that range could be less than a mile. But in more open spaces, up to 50 miles is possible. The antenna, which takes a USB-delivered charge, will store messages and hold them until a connection can be made.

The goTenna connects to a smartphone using Bluetooth Low Energy.

Businesses employ a range of back-up communications, including long-range satellite phones and ham radios, as well as shorter range walkie-talkies. The goTenna could serve as an alternative to a walkie-talkie -- and even offers some advantages. Its messages are encrypted and private. A separate communications device isn't needed. And users can use their smartphone interface.

The goTenna also has the ability to "shout" a message by delivering it other goTenna users who opt-in to receive a broadcast.

"That fact that we are totally decentralized means that in many ways it can be a backup to your backup," said Daniela Perdomo, CEO of the Brooklyn-based company she co-founded with her brother, Jorge Perdomo, the CTO.

As well as serving as an emergency tool, Perdomo sees the device being used for outdoor recreation communications, travel or for any use that requires private communications. The antenna uses a Lithium-ion battery and is estimated to last two to three days with normal use, or as long as 30 hours if it's on continuously.

Perdomo said the outages created by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 prompted her to imagine ways smartphones could be made to directly communicate with other phones.

The goTenna will ship late fall, but a pair can be preordered for $149.99.

Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

See more by Patrick Thibodeau on Computerworld.com.

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