Off-Grid Communication: How To Use Your Mobile Phone Without Service

The goTenna off-grid communication device turns your mobile phone, and anyone else’s phone paired with a device, into a self-sufficient mesh network operating free from the constraints of mobile reception, power, network resources, and with complete privacy.

New York-based startup goTenna developed the idea in the wake of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy where residents in America’s tri-state area were unable to contact friends, family, or for that matter anyone else. We have seen this same circumstance with the recent spate of wild weather from Houston’s floods and Florida’s impact in hurricane Irma.

As a ready-to go network, this does what a lot of older systems don’t do which is to be instantly deployable with cell phones carrying the goTenna Mesh and the app. The range that is built using the mesh network is suitable for tactical, emergency and leisure environments.

The use of goTenna’s Mesh device does not stop there. For those looking to move off-the-grid but stay close with their family it is able to generate an encrypted mesh network much like what we would see the military and emergency services use. This is also useful for everyone from hikers, hunters, survivalists, and friends going overseas who might want to avoid purchasing phone cards to communicate with each other.

How does off-grid communication work on a mesh network?

In the diagram below, you can see that there is the star network on the left, and the mesh network on the right. For most mobile phone users we use the star network. The weakness of this is that it is based on a central point, such as a cell phone tower. When those cell phone towers are damaged or non-existent, the network is dead.

Mesh networks rely on users, not a central point. So if two users are within range of each other, they can communicate. Only phones that are paired with their own individual goTenna device will be able to join the network, so it’s not like anyone can just drop into your conversation.

With the goTenna Mesh, the network range from one phone to another phone (point-to-point) is 4-5 miles. So this means that if three phones were spaced apart at 4-5 mile intervals, the first phone could contact the third phone which would be 8 miles away.

Why is the goTenna the most advanced mesh network device?

Aside from the mesh network capability, the goTenna is at the top of its market for privacy tools as it uses private messaging and secure encryption. This is because as a mesh network, there is no one intercepting your data, so the messages and communications between the network are only viewable by those in the network. The next leg to that is that all data is encrypted, so even if there was to be a breach in your network, the messaging would be scrambled.

There is also a delivery confirmation receipt with each message, just like what Whattsap and Facebook Messenger provides. This lets you know when and if your intended recipient received the message to ensure the mesh network is working and to identify who is within reach of the mesh network. When I used the goTenna this was useful as you could clearly define what distances you were able to reach.

Using the app, you are also able to pinpoint and share your location with other people in the network. This has two benefits, first is that when you are trying to find someone this essentially acts as a beacon locator. The next benefit is that you can automatically share your location. In my experience in the military, I can say that regular reporting of locations was a crucial factor in team management, safety and situational awareness for team leaders. Having this capacity in a digital system only adds a new element to the professional use for the goTenna Mesh.

My use of the goTenna Mesh

I trialed the mesh network in three environments, flat with no trees, urban and in a mountain range. The website says that up to half a mile is a reasonable distance in urban or built-up environments, however, I was able to reach one mile in my urban area with an instant receipt message that my test had been received. In the mountain range, I was able to get three miles which I was impressed with given I was expecting substantial mountain interference. In an open area, goTenna promises a reach of 4 miles, but when testing out the product I was able to reach further.Off-Grid Communication using goTenna Mesh

For the battery, it has a life of over 24 hours which is very effective for the outdoors environment. If you are out in the field or outdoors for any longer than that an external Anker battery would be a suitable addition. For other longer uses it might also be great to use this in conjunction with an Anker Solar Charger to keep your private network up and running.

I would suggest picking this up if you are an outdoors regular like myself or as a backup if your cell network is down. The original version of the goTenna is on Amazon and is also available on their site. This older version, however, cannot act as part of the mesh function and relay those messages that you are wanting to create, the goTenna mesh is the item for that.

There are further tests I would like to try with this, such as utilising the goTenna with a drone for adding signal. This is an advertised feature of the goTenna Pro kit which is being marketed as a professional use item for government and private sectors. This is definitely a way for team leaders in emergency services, military, and private companies to gain a more thorough situational awareness through a private mobile network.

Off-Grid Communication using goTenna Mesh

I have also included the goTenna Mesh video here to see how its basic functions. If you are looking for an off-grid communication plan, even as just a backup for when or if the power of cell network goes down, then this is definitely a valuable piece of kit to be using. If you are after a digital space to gain a stronger situational awareness in team environments, then the goTenna Mesh or the goTenna Pro kit is a great option.

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