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Sport and Outdoors

GoTenna Mesh keeps chat lines open when cell service drops out

Whether you're embarking on a camping trip, filling a go-bag for emergency prep or traveling anywhere without a reliable cellular connection, the GoTenna Mesh is a nimble solution for off-the-grid messaging.

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A trip to the wilderness can be a relaxing break to unplug from the always-on connectivity of city life, but it can be tricky to stay in touch with the group once your cellular service drops out.

You can pick up a satellite phone or a set of two-way radios, but there's no way to guarantee message delivery unless you get an immediate response -- not to mention a loud barking radio isn't the most considerate way to communicate in nature.

That's why the GoTenna is a popular accessory for campers, travelers, preppers and even search-and-rescue teams. It's a small communication device that connects to smartphones via Bluetooth and creates a low-frequency radio wave network, allowing users to send messages and broadcast GPS coordinates to other GoTenna carriers without the need for a cellular connection.

It doesn't offer an actual data plan for Web surfing or other online activities, but it can transmit a connection signal for three miles in outdoor scenarios and a mile in urban areas, depending on the source elevation.

GoTenna cofounder and CEO Daniela Perdomo came by CNET last month to show us the company's next project called GoTenna Mesh. While the original sent encrypted messages via point-to-point networking, the company's second product relies on mesh networking which allows devices to share their connections with other users and relay messages to widen the coverage area.

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GoTenna just launched a Kickstarter for its second device, the GoTenna Mesh, which uses mesh networking to share device connections, relay messages and widen coverage areas.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Here's how mesh networking works in a real-life scenario: let's say you and a buddy are planning a trip off the grid in Yosemite National Park in California. Before you go, clip a GoTenna Mesh to each of your bags and download the offline maps for your trip, available for both iOS and Android.

Once you're out there, if you and your buddy wander off and go out of range of each other's GoTennas, you can still send messages back and forth using the mesh network, provided there are other GoTenna users around.

The device will automatically crawl the area attempting to locate other users nearby with a clean network connection. If it finds another GoTenna, it'll use that device's service to slingshot your message forward to the destination. All this happens in the background of the app to keep messages private, but the mesh network can double or even triple the effective frequency spectrum using this dynamic tool.

The demo I saw in the office wasn't nearly as dramatic as it will be in the wilderness, but keep in mind GoTenna and GoTenna Mesh aren't exclusively made for campers hiking off the grid. Its ad-hoc messaging has potential for emergency preppers in the event of a city-wide cellular blackout, attendees of large gatherings like concerts and sports events and anyone traveling without a working SIM card.

Like the flagship model, the GoTenna Mesh also shows read receipts, logs and sends GPS coordinates, and includes a function called Shout that lets you transmit information to any GoTenna devices in range -- sort of an on-the-go "anyone out there?" call to action.

The Brooklyn-based company has simultaneously announced an open SDK for future projects as well as a premium service called GoTenna Plus that offers additional features like topographic maps, network relay, and real-time trip stats for a yearly fee.

GoTenna is using a Kickstarter campaign to give early adopters a chance to invest in the GoTenna Mesh. Preorders are available for the next month for a limited promotional price of $129 (£100, AU$170) to start, but the actual retail price will be $179 (£140, AU$235) for a pair when the product ships later this year.

Likewise, the original GoTenna without the mesh network capability will be sold for $149 (£115, AU$200) for a pair.

As always, please note that CNET's reporting on crowdfunding campaigns is not an endorsement of the project or its creators. Contributing to a crowdfunded project comes with risk. Before contributing to any campaign, read the crowdfunding site's policies, such as those for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, to learn more about your rights (and refund policies, or the lack thereof) before and after a campaign ends.

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