YBLTV Review: goTenna Mesh
Living on the edge of Las Vegas, NV and often commuting across three hundred miles of empty desert, I am keenly aware of the luxury that is connectivity and how many take their reliable signals for granted. For most of my life growing up in California, I was the same – although my city was small, we were still largely connected due to the fact that we lived in the shadow of Los Angeles. We had options for cell phone carriers and for internet providers, and dead zones were rare, yet easily avoided along alternate routes. Moving to Las Vegas in 2011 – and having spent four years before commuting for family visits – I began to see the unique issues with living out in the desert. Network services seemed to be controlled by maybe two large companies in the valley, and outages were wide-spread when they happened. We rarely think about this as an issue, but take one look at a map of Las Vegas and its surrounding cities, and you’ll see that for all our growth over the years, we still sit fairly isolated, resulting in a special form of self-reliance bred by desert living. We come up with creative means to live in this harsh climate – from new technology in water conservation to energy production, we adapt by necessity.
“The goTenna Mesh goes beyond simply connecting Point A and Point B – it provides great peace of mind when everything is going right and a potentially life-saving network should everything go wrong” – Katie Hernandez, YBLTV Writer/Reviewer
One of the biggest things I have been concerned about since moving to Las Vegas in 2011 was the issue of connection. What would happen, should a large-scale emergency occur in the city, and we could no longer rely on cell phone signals or internet connection? Some of my immediate family members still live in California and during my time at school, my closest family member lived almost twenty miles away from me. It was a question of preparing for the moment when the technology we depended on every day could fail us.
Towards the beginning of 2017, I began hearing about a startup based out of Brooklyn, New York called goTenna, and one of their two main devices, goTenna Mesh. According to goTenna’s website, the goTenna Mesh is “Revolutionary mesh networking [that] privately and automatically relays messages through other devices to extend beyond point-to-point range; the bigger your network, the stronger your communications.” Essentially, mesh networks operate off of a principle of multiple nodes or relay points – a message from Point A goes to Point B with a certain baseline range. However, the more relay points between Point A and B, the larger the distance between Point A and Point B can become.
This appears to be the large-scale plan of goTenna – to increase the possible relay points in a given area which would, in turn, increase the reliability of goTenna mesh overall. With a companion app and Bluetooth connection, goTenna Mesh users are able to utilize one-to-one messages, the ability to contact any goTenna Mesh users in the area (“Shouts”), Location Sharing/Maps, and emergency broadcasts. I became fascinated with the concept – a safeguard at your fingertips should the worst happen is extremely appealing when areas without signal can stretch for miles, or when internet outages can happen at the worst times.
During my product review of goTenna Mesh after attending this year’s CES Show, I found a couple of key points that I felt would benefit readers searching for more information about the device and the goTenna network itself:
- Distance: One might think that goTenna Mesh is the answer for connection during long-distance emergencies – and one could be correct, depending on the area. For example, goTenna has led an incredible effort to reconnect Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit in late 2017 and devastated connection throughout the country. However, one of the key pieces to goTenna’s success in Puerto Rico is the design of the mesh network and the number of designated relay nodes with solar panels (aka a near constant energy source). This was a thought-out, orchestrated response to a natural disaster, and beautifully done. Thinking to everyday emergencies, however, there is the concern that, until these networks within the mainland United States really grow (possibly with help from local government or private investments), the range of goTenna Mesh will stay limited. During my testing of goTenna Mesh, I was only able to get roughly 400 yards before my signal died (about two stop signs from my house); I ended up taking a look at the goTenna Mesh Network Map (imeshyou.com) and found out that, within the East side of my city and one city over, there were only 3 registered goTenna Mesh. Taking into consideration if these were charged or not, the range becomes extremely limited. While the distance is increased when line-of-sight is maintained, this is difficult to achieve in most suburban areas. According to goTenna, the expected range is approximately 4 miles (6.4 km) in areas such as desert or plains (wide open areas) vs 0.5 miles (0.8 km) in congested areas; however, these estimates can grow or shrink depending on other users and individual conditions.
- Success through simplistic design: I really fell in love with the goTenna Mesh when I began to see how much it was accomplishing once it focused on one core concept – connectivity. The goTenna Mesh focuses on sending messages (with receipts to indicate when a message is received) and locations between two points. There’s also emergency broadcasts, but the whole mission is simply communication. I really enjoyed that I could just pair the goTenna Mesh and go about my day – there wasn’t something to check 24/7 and I knew that if I received a message on the goTenna app (within the parameters of this review), it would 1) be a “critical” message and 2) wouldn’t get bogged down in my text inbox between other messages. It felt very clean, and there was something reassuring about having a communication line completely dedicated to “critical” messages. The aesthetic design of the goTenna Mesh is also really attractive – no screens, no sounds, just a simple notification light and a power button.
- Message Encryption and Location Sharing: Another feature of the goTenna Mesh is the 1:1 message encryption (direct messaging). Although this isn’t a tangible feature on the app or on the device itself, I appreciate the fact that goTenna Mesh includes it. My primary reason for this is because of the nature of mesh networks – using multiple points to send a single message reduces the perceived security of the messaging feature. However, knowing that these messages can stay stored on the goTenna Mesh and are encrypted for protection is a huge plus for me. I also really appreciated the location sharing/map feature on the app. Most of us are already use to sharing locations with family and friends for driving directions, yet being able to physically see where someone is in an emergency, especially if they’re not on a main area of traffic, is so incredibly important.
- Design: simple, yet powerful, and not intrusive in any way
- goTenna App: the interface is extremely smooth and easy to use, whether it be normal every day use (such as concerts or conventions) or in an emergency
- Examples of successful emergency use are already coming in via the goTenna Mesh x PR Reconnects Project (where you can donate funds towards providing more goTenna Mesh throughout Puerto Rico)
- Potential for infrastructure partnerships: could provide opportunity for rural or less-connected areas to become part of a more reliable network
- Roughly 24-hour battery life: 24 hours is a decent battery life, but in times of emergency it means having a secondary battery source
- Range: current range is iffy, but there’s promise as the network builds
The goTenna Mesh is, by far, one of the most useful and innovative devices I have encountered. I never considered that goTenna Mesh could be used at outdoor or large-scale events to keep groups connected. As an outdoor festival fan, connoisseur of all things Disneyland, and a regular at conventions, I’m painfully aware of the congestion issues that pop up when cell signals are throttled. Knowing that I could stay connected with my group is very reassuring. Even with the current range, I see immense potential for greater off-the-grid network expansion and the ability to contribute improvement of local infrastructure. The goTenna Mesh goes beyond simply connecting Point A and Point B – it provides great peace of mind when everything is going right and a potentially life-saving network should things go wrong.
Disclosure of Material Connection: YBLTV Writer / Reviewer, Katie Hernandez received the goTenna Mesh for free from goTenna in consideration for a Product Review.