goTenna introduced its new mesh networking device, which lets you communicate even while you’re far away from civilization. Ideal for hikers or any adventurers, the devices connect to each other on their own, forming a distributed network that works even without wifi or mobile service. The product received over half a million dollars in its Kickstarter funding drive, from nearly three thousand supporters, and now goes to market.

GoTenna Mesh on carabiner (Source: OffGrid)

You can use the devices with your Android or Apple smartphone. Sharing data across this new independent network, you can send text messages, and indicate your GPS location. Communications include end-to-end encryption.

In a traditional networking arrangement, such as a wifi network or mobile data service, a central provider such as the wifi router or cell phone company runs a network for connecting devices. By contrast, in mesh networking, the devices create their own network without any central hub. So there is no “service provider”, instead the devices weave together the fabric of their own network.

Even while disconnected from the grid entirely, you can text and add location pins to a map, making for greater safety and convenience.

You can send private text messages to anyone else on the mesh network, or you can send group messages to up to ten people, and you can even publicly broadcast a message to all other meshers within range. The messaging app includes confirmation receipt, like WhatsApp or Facebook, so you know when your messages get through.

goTenna Mesh inside backpack (Source: OffGrid)

Another feature, which goTenna calls “breadcrumbing” (as in the trail of breadrcumbs left by Hansel and Gretel in the fairy tale), lets you scatter devices strategically around a geographic site, acting as range extenders. This way you can build a mesh network over any area, and avoid nasty witches.

In many ways, the goTenna Mesh is a walkie-talkie on steroids. It boasts much smaller size, lighter weight, double battery duration (24 versus 12 hours), one-and-a-half times the range, and advanced features including meshing and channel management. The Mesh’s UHF transmissions connect point-to-point up to four miles in open areas, so by stringing them together you could reasonably cover an area of hundreds of square miles with a large group of friends.

The compact device, which looks kind of like a USB storage stick, includes a case made out of aluminum and plastic, with its antenna and battery and electronics inside. It weighs in at a mere 1.7 oz., with dimensions of 4.2” x 0.9” x 1.3”. You can now buy a set of two for $179. Orders of four or more include a waterproof bag, and the product comes in a variety of bright color combinations.

As more people use these devices, it gains in practicality, because the global mesh network grows. As of now you can use it with your friends on any hike. With greater adoption, you may encounter existing mesh networks that you can join. One can even imagine in the future having enough of these devices spread out over popular hiking areas to create purpose-built communication nets as an extra amenity and safety feature. In theory they could even replace conventional cell phone service and wifi!

Mesh network map (Source: Vimeo)

You can see a live map of active goTenna Mesh devices. Looking around at Miami, where I am now, I see a dense cluster of these downtown, and a number more extend throughout the suburbs. Many more spread throughout the state, the country, and internationally. I even see a few floating around in the sea – maybe some intrepid sailors have found use for these in communicating among a flotilla of boats, or within a larger vessel.