A new pocket-sized device transforms cell phones into new age walkie-talkies, enabling you to send text messages in areas where cellular networks are unavailable. Sharon Reich reports.
STORY: Cell service down? Or maybe you're roaming out of range? Whatever the reason, being unable to send text messages is frustrating. This little device could end that problem. Called the goTenna, it creates its own network operating on low-frequency radio waves, enabling users to exchange text messages without relying on cell towers. goTenna Co-founder and CTO Jorge Perdomo. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GOTENNA CO-FOUNDER AND CTO JORGE PERDOMO SAYING: "We didn't want to reinvent what chat is, we just wanted to enable it in places where it wasn't possible before." Perdomo and his sister Daniela developed the idea after Hurricane Sandy wiped out one quarter of the cell towers in New York and many people couldn't get cell service or wifi. The Brooklyn-based team got to work developing a pocket-size transmitter. Inside is a tiny 2-watt radio and a built-in antenna that uses low-frequency radio spectrum to communicate directly with another goTenna. When users type a message on the goTenna app installed on their phone, it gets sent over bluetooth to the goTenna device, and is then turned into a radio frequency transmission, which is sent to the recipient. Co-founder Daniela Perdomo says goTenna also has unique mapping features built into the app. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GOTENNA CO-FOUNDER DANIELA PERDOMO SAYING: "We leverage the GPS on your phone or ipad -- and GPS on your phone always works even if you don't have service. However, if you don't have service all it is a blue dot on a blank screen. What goTenna does is enable you to contextualize the blue dot on an off-line map, which then you can share with anyone else who has goTenna." The range of the transmitter varies, depending on elevation and physical conditions. On mountaintops, the goTenna could reach 50 miles, while in urban scenarios the average distance is half a mile to a mile. Using radio waves to send messages sounds similar to a walkie talkie, but the team says the system's architecture takes the technology to a new level. (SOUNDBITE) (English) GOTENNA CO-FOUNDER DANIELA PERDOMO SAYING: "Because our radio transmission is digital instead of analog -- we can do a range of really smart things like send your message to a specific person or specific group of people rather than just yelling to a group of people which is what happens on a walkie talkie. On a walkie talkie you also have to be on the same channel and listen to other people's conversations. This marries the best of radio frequency technology with a smart phone and I think together makes them both better." goTenna is on pre-sale for $150 U.S. dollars for two devices. The product hits the market November, but the team say they're thinking ahead, and who knows, maybe someday this technology will become part of your smart phone, instead of an add-on.