GoTenna raises $7.5M for its off-grid communications devices


Carriers are constantly working to improve the range and quality of their wireless coverage, but many areas still lack reliable network access. In such locations, there’s a need for alternative communications options that a Brooklyn-based startup called goTenna Inc. is working to address.

Its mission has attracted a $7.5 million investment today from Union Square Ventures, Bloomberg Beta and four other venture capital firms. At the center of goTenna’s efforts is a family of compact transmitters that make it possible exchange data without relying on traditional carrier infrastructure. Instead, they implement a model known as mesh networking that has gained a lot of steam in the telecommunications world over recent years.

The approach involves directly transmitting information from one end-point to another as opposed to routing the information through a cell tower or some other centralized intermediary. It’s the same concept that IBM Corp. has implemented in its recently introduced Mesh Network Alerts platform. Available through The Weather Channel app, the system will enable users in developing countries to receive alerts about natural disasters even when carrier infrastructure is down.

GoTenna’s transmitters are likewise designed to work with a mobile client. According to the startup, its app lets users send text messages to an individual or  group, share location information and download maps about the area where they happen to be.

Data is broadcast to nearby goTenna transmitters, which in turn pass on the packets to other nodes if the intended recipient is farther away and so on until they reach the target node. This creates a sort of daisy chain that provides the ability to exchange information over distances as long as 10 miles in the absence of a conventional network.

The startup’s most popular transmitter is a consumer-oriented model called the goTenna Mesh that is about the size of a candy bar. It’s designed to ease group communications during group hiking trips and various other outdoor activities, a value proposition that has helped goTenna attract more than a half-million dollars from Kickstarter backers.

The startup recently announced a more powerful model called the goTenna Pro geared toward workers who venture off the beaten track for a living. It packs a battery that lasts up to 60 hours and supports a much broader frequency brand than the consumer edition. The firm sees the device coming handy for a wide variety of groups ranging from park rangers working beyond the range of carrier infrastructure to military personnel.

Image: goTenna