Why Gotenna Mesh off-grid communications devices may be superior in some use-cases to Ham radios (e.g. BaoFeng…) like maybe Burning Man?

Why Gotenna Mesh off-grid communications devices may be superior in some use-cases to Ham radios (e.g. BaoFeng…) like maybe at Burning Man? Top 20ish reasons why Gotenna is better than Ham (or complements it) and some minor suggestions on installation BEFORE deployment:

There was a recent exploit talk regarding the Gotenna Mesh at DefCon 26 Wireless village last weekend, Saturday, August 11, 2018. If your OpSec is important, the talk is definitely worth a diligent listen (below), the updated slides should be reviewed from the author, and update to the latest Gotenna Mesh app would be prudent. I’ve tried to keep my comments accessible to people of all technical backgrounds.

IMHO, it was a good talk, shared many vulnerabilities and cautions… but may be moot in view of new versions in app store. Touch base (download new offline install .apks) quickly if deploying soon.

Gotenna seems to be getting out in front of this issue, but the talk and author seemed a bit biased against Gotenna “toys.” While he makes many solid points for HAM BaoFeng radios as superior to Gotenna Mesh devices, … I’ve respectfully provided some counter-points to consider why Gotenna (or Sonnet Labs Mesh or Contact #CallForCode) may be superior to Ham in some instances, with some users, in some jurisdictions.

Pros of Gotenna Mesh vs. Ham Radio (Top 20ish reasons)

  • price is actually $143 ish for TWO ($70ish each) get the volunteer, first-responder discount or bulk discounts or used ones on ebay
  • not waterproof or playa-proof, but ip66 milspec-ish? Held up pretty well in our real world Hurricane / wildfire tests by DHS DMAT, Puerto Rico Piratas, and CERT units (even Chelsea couldn’t destroy one;) they survive multiple drone drops from tens of feet.
  • +cannot beat it’s simplicity… and familiarity using own phone (android / iOS/ smartwatch). Anyone who can use an iphone can use one. Designed idiot-proof. Simple. It just works.
  • +Gotenna mesh works with waterproof devices that survivors and first responders already have on them (and are likely to take in field, on the run, or in shelter)… iwatch, iphone, samsung, sonim xp8, cat phone… milspec devices with GPS and aGPS and cell sector built in.
  • +does provide FREE SMS text message relay/ remote twitter posts/ twillio / custom web server backhaul digipeter functionality like APRS (Mesh Developer Toolkit and/or GotennaPlus free trial) and scripting. Open source.
  • +ULTRAlow power efficiency and efficacy -=functions at 1 watt versus 5–8 watts Bao Feng for sameish line of sight (LOS) incredibly .6 to 2 to 5 miles, even 62 miles via drone. Physics are a bxtch.
  • +(only draws 100milliamps!) less than a watt…charges with any microusb, solar, or cell charger, can even use your phonecharger or your phone itself (usb-c or otg) to charge gotenna FROM THE PHONE! Can you charge a BaoFeng FROM your phone with a $4 cable? or a shxtty keychain solar cell? Need at least 8watts 12Volts to charge a BaoFeng ham radio compared to 1watt 4.74V for Gotenna Mesh.
  • +6 hop functionality without ANY infrastructure. Your message can bounce off of other nodes up to six times. You can even hoist one or two gotenna permanent relays up in trees or on the roof for crazy range!
  • +e911 text 911 hearing impaired emergency services may be possible in your area* Check local 10 digit backup number for county. 100% Text 911 available in Puerto Rico. Florida is only about 80%. Nevada seems to be covered. Many states have coverage. Best to check before travelling.
  • +does not require FCC licensure, tests, fees, classes like Baofeng / Ham does under FCC rules. ANY idiot can use Gotenna without any classes or tests or fees and there are safeguards baked-in to avoid them interfering with first responders, leos, and others. (e.g. 5 tx limit on user transmissions, ultra low bandwidth, text/gps only, short gps-tagged bursts which frequency hop and spread their spectrum FHSS, CSMA CD collision avoidance type listen-first before transmit politeness and steward of common spectrum.
  • IIRC BaoFeng Hams are technically illegal to the extent they allow FRS GMRS at 5-8 watts?… whereas Gotenna is 100% legal and quiet 1watt polite short bursts (cannot block or overwhelm other signals) in all countries as it dynamically adjusts it’s frequency and broadcast power (and dutycycle, Tx limit) automatically based on gps location, congestion, and local laws.
  • +try throwing your ham radio up a tree, flag pole, on the roof, on a drone up 400ft for better signal? Gotenna is only the size of a lighter. It’s rugged and it has CRAZY range when it’s 400 feet up in the air. Add a tiny $40 ATT iPhone CE with Mesh Developer Toolkit, and you have an entire cellular on wings COW cellular tower gateway digipeter in a box with even a DJI mavic pro. 26 minutes of air time. Tethered drone can stay up indefinitely with hotspot and gotenna. This is VERY useful in off-grid locations.
  • +Ham radios and even BaoFengs are incredibly hard to use even for moderately experienced users. Have you ever tried getting them out of Chinese mode in the sun? shxt screens and shxt keyboards and shxt UI UX userinterference on Baofeng ham… vs Gotenna app UI UX high contrast interface with free offline topo maps and gps on Gotenna Mesh using your own primary device screen (superOLED Note 9 or Sonim XP8 what!? ;)).
  • +Mesh Developer Toolkit FREE opensource enables beacon, status updates, backhaul, auto replies, … scripting, IFTTT, tasker, automate-it SDK integration — your imagination is the only limitation.
  • +Free blueteam friendly tracking with GliderLink built on Gotenna App
  • +Block/Mute malicious / spam / compromised nodes… full smartphone notification granularity by times, location, contact, quiet hours… vibrate/audible… totally customizable.
  • +impossible for new users to accidentally block or jam an emergency channel (SDK limits to 5 tx per minute, tiny tiny messages, FHSS, w CSMACD collision avoidance type polite listening)
  • +GPS /aGPS /triangulation capability for SAR, blueteam coordination
  • +Automated Emergency SOS Beacon with preprogrammed message mode (device itself works even after phone dies or is lost). Any survivor can call for help simply, even if they lose consciousness by five taps on the gotenna button.
  • +Bouncy castle open source encryption* (may be implemented poorly, beware) but the beauty is that you can roll your own homerolled or ANY encryption you like ON TOP of Gotenna’s and some disaster use-cases (Shout, Emergency Shout, SOS, psa) don’t necessarily even require encryption.
  • +Frequency Hop Spread Spectrum FHSS noise resilience even in DefCon wireless village and capture the packet arenas. They even work at the Whitehouse and surrounding areas.
  • +1 to 1 and selective group messaging. send messages to talkgroups, individuals, everything. Simple.
  • +Read Receipt. Ping. Location requests. Automated responses. Automated tracking.
  • +++*While the Defcon exploit speaker talks complete trash about Gotenna OpSec… in the 72 hours of DefCon and even with BlackHat attendees present, 30 thousand of the worlds most 1337 ha><ors (elite hackers, phreakers, rfs, hams and graybeards), NONE of the bountied$ gotenna foxes were caught or compromised, NONE of the flags were captured, communication was not interrupted— cash, pot, and ale (Oxford comma) went unclaimed even though foxes / flags hidden IN wireless village itself “spamming” shouts and clues.

Part 1 of Gotenna glitch / exposure


Part 2: Continued


While he rightfully laments the requirements of an onboarded phone with 100 megabyte install and registration… Gotenna has taken a laissez faire approach to their .apk install file being allowed on third party servers (check google) so an admin could download the .apk for sharing with the wolfpack once on site at camp or in field even with no comms (memorystick, usb, wifi hotspot, bluetooth, airdrop, sd card… etc. for sideload) Thankfully, they have also relaxed registration of their app so that it can generate a random GID to avoid sms verification, registration — so you DO NOT need internet or cell service to install and configure gotenna app. Provided you download it before losing internet (or get it from a friend offline).

One such example of a good place for Gotenna is Burning Man’s Black Rock City… especially if the Rangers are getting donated several units.

TLDR; Best practices for deployment in Burning Man, Puerto Rico, California or off grid areas:

+Download the app and register before you go. 90+ megs isn’t easy over 3g.
+Download offline topo maps for the area (another several Mb)
+Plan 30 minutes to update firmware to latest version for Emergency SOS and doubled (6 hop) for each device
+If anyone within 6 hops of you has a signal (wifi, cell, or sat… anything) then ALL #ALLONE of you are able to send uni-directional messages to ANY phone number… even, perhaps text 911? Or your safety contact/ BR rangers. 6 TIMES THE LIKELIHOOD OF GETTING A MESSAGE OUT (signal diversity approach by using any available carrier, any available signal).
+Mesh Toolkit FREE lets you backhaul messages/binaries across the intra / internet
+30 day free GotennaPlus membership does text /sms relay across ANY signal.
+May want to keep Gotenna in the shade, maybe with breeze/ventilation, maybe in a ziplock, maybe superglue around edges for extra playa resistance.
+Any small solar panel will keep this charged all week (interpose a cellcharger if unattended relay atop mast). Use the shadow and point the solar southern at about 15% ish grade. You can ping the device if you know the GID to ensure it’s operational. Three button clicks should take you to relay mode to save power on LEDs and Bluetooth.
+TRY HAM FIRST Rangers and local EMS are on ham radio too (channel 5, 154.600 CTCSS/PL 97.4) to reach the Black Rock City Emergency Services Dispatch.
!+SHOUT and EMERGENCY SHOUT and SOS are UNENCRYPTED, public, cleartext promiscuous broadcast. (See Smith v. Maryland SCOTUS) thar be dragons ahead. GPS, metadata, phone number may leak…as expected. Maybe no privacy interest in this data? No warrant, no subpoena, nothing required perhaps? This may present HIPAA and First Amendment issues (see e.g. NAACP vs. Alabama holding by unanimous SCOTUS).
+ONLY direct messages are encrypted… Init error may expose (See youtube DefCon 26 talk) if required, roll your own. Anything you trust. Pre and post encrypt. Use an airgapped and upgraded iPhone imho.

!+Current vulnerabilities allow for impersonation and perhaps defeat of encryption! Beware of Social Engineering and always take anything you receive with a grain of salt. Seek out of band confirmation from trusted friends. Avoid giving away your location.


If anyone has any problems, questions, or needs help, stop by Bronner’s FOAM camp Foam Against The Machine. Sophomoric expert on hand and glad to help. GIDS will be posted (remember impersonation is possible… and FBI bought some of these gotenna units for their academy- Feds have spent millions of public monies on Gotenna and In-Q-Tel IQT was their initial angel investor). #PrivacyCanary


In my humble opinion, the more appropriate comparison would be between the Gotenna PRO 5 watt Military Spec Hardened MilSpec 68 PRO version with detachable antenna, tunable frequencies, on the one hand, and a Moto/Yaesu/BaoFeng ham radio on the other hand.

As stated on Officer.com:

“Simply put, the goTenna Pro is 40x less expensive, 12x smaller, 10x lighter, and 30x more energy efficient than any other comparable mesh networking tactical radio system. Plus, with its intuitive smartphone integration, operationalization is immediate — no special training is required, as it works just like any other messaging app on your smartphone.

Some of the key enhancements in goTenna Pro relative to the company’s existing consumer product line are:

  • Professional-grade, high-performance mesh networking
  • Upgraded 5-watt variable output power
  • Software-defined tunable VHF/UHF radio (142-175MHz & 445-480MHz)
  • Greatly upgraded radio sensitivity (-124dBm)
  • SMA antenna connector for easy operation with any legacy antennas
  • Military grade ruggedization (MILSPEC & IP68)
  • Intrinsic safety for explosive environments
  • Upgraded battery life exceeding 60 hours per charge
  • Complementary enterprise fleet management portal”

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