GoTenna, an off-the-grid communications startup out of New York, is helping Puerto Rico get back on the grid by creating a wireless mesh network across the island. But what’s a mesh network? How does it work off the grid? And, is the future of communications? Yes and no. We’ll explain.
A startup out of New York called goTenna is getting recognition for helping the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico restore some basic communications in the capital city of San Juan. It’s a not business as usual, but it is a huge help in a devastating situation — the U.S. commonwealth having lost 93 percent of the telecommunications when the hurricane hit back in September. “I can tell you, it felt like 100%,” Javier Malavé, director of the PR Reconnects project explained to TechCrunch. “I drove around and all the antennas were down, the satellite dishes were down, the transport and backbone layers were down.”
What goTenna was able to do was distribute some of their new, small goTenna Mesh devices that allow smartphones to utilize UHF frequencies to communicate. You can’t call, but you can send text messages and even your location. It’s basic — but it’s the best thing the community has seen in weeks. One of the best examples of the effort is a local parish that’s now become a ‘hotspot’ for communication. Before, locals had to walk 40 minutes to the hospital to request medical help — but now, they can walk just a few minutes to the local church, connect to the wireless mesh, and send shoot a message to the hospital instantly.
GoTenna was started in the aftermath of a similar situation, Hurricane Sandy, back in 2012. After witnessing a communications wipeout, the idea was to bring military-grade technology to the public to aid in these situations. But, they underestimated just how popular this product would be for regular consumers — like people who go hiking and concert-goers, not just people preparing their emergency aid kits.
In fact, back on the mainland, the goTenna Mesh is being used by tens of thousands of people to create a nationwide wireless mesh network. The thing about wireless mesh networks is that they become stronger the more devices are connected — unlike regular communications networks that are susceptible to bandwidth issues. Essentially, as goTenna Mesh grows, so does the network. But, that doesn’t mean that these wireless mesh communications are the future of telecom.
This UHF frequencies technology is great for what it’s marketed for — emergency situations, to connect people off the grid, or keep people in contact in a place where traditional communications are overridden, like concerts. We also see it being used in IoT for example, to connect smart-devices or smart-cars. With that being said, they aren’t going to replace the fast, already global communications tools we use today — but it will surely be used alongside it.
Instead, we see the future of connectivity as hybrid, and blended. We believe the best way to create resilient, global networks is to integrate different technologies like the cloud or 4G. Hybrid networks are reliable networks — with high-bandwidth and reliable backups to keep you online 24/7.