If you are heading to Hawaii for #HurricaneLane, and your volunteers are not ham radio licensed, and your budget does not allow for a $500 Garmin inReach Explorer Plus satellite communicator or $250 for a Spot X satellite messenger (either with $14 a month month-to-month service – no contract required), then you definitely should look into Gotenna Mesh devices, especially if your team will be confined to several miles of each other. These work particularly well in Seach and Rescue (SAR), convoys, and around base-camp.
Gotenna works about .6 miles (per hop with up to SIX HOPS allowed) under normal non-ideal conditions (i.e. poor placement altitude, obstructions, no relays, high noise floor, and beginner, untrained users…). If users orient the device in a vertical orientation, place them on the top of their backpack, strategically place a relay device somewhere high, then users are more likely to get several miles of range. For advanced users, raising a centrally placed relay device atop an antenna, light pole, tree, mountain, or on a drone, up to 62 miles of range may be possible. If operations are constrained to one area, strategic placement of a right-angle reflector or cantenna can double range with some users seeing 5 miles, others (at altitude seeing 29 miles). For expert users, light surgery to upgrade the internal antenna to an SMA connector shows great gains when coupled with external antennas.
Even more importantly, if ANY user within Gotenna range (within 6 hops) does have cell service or wifi service, then EVERY Gotenna user within range is able to relay one-way text / simple message service (SMS) messages to anyone in the world (even if they don’t have a Gotenna device). Moreover, if your team has IT support geeks, Mesh Developer Toolkit (only available on iOS) allows for backhaul across the internet, twitter, or custom web-servers.
These features provide a significant advantage for first responders, survivors, and others operating in disaster areas which may not have cell service. This is a force multiplier. If, for example, a volunteer has Sprint service and a gotenna, but Sprint service is down… but several other team members have GSM phones, like ATT, Tmobile or CDMA Verizon, Sat phone, or someone is near a public wifi that’s working, then EVERYONE in the team can use whichever network is working at the moment – automatically without any user intervention or customization. *IT IS IMPORTANT TO NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT BIDIRECTIONAL, but being able to get a message out sometimes can be the difference between life and death.*
At only about $70 per Gotenna device, this may prove much cheaper and more immediate than buying ham radios, classes, and licensure for each operator. Additionally, Gotenna only draws between 100-400milliamps to charge at about 4.74Volts (.4 – 2Watts power draw) meaning that they can charge and stay charged for several days from any source – even a tiny solar keychain device. Whereas even a BaoFeng ($30 but requires a license) requires at least 12V at 400milliamps (about 5Watts) to charge (with losses in the multiple voltage conversion steps). Moreover, ham radios require training to use them correctly and avoid misuse or interference with LEO and emergency calls. Whereas Gotenna devices, in contrast, are easily employable with the user’s own phone where they are very comfortable. Gotennas are very simple devices to use – evinced by the fact that a month after launching the latest software, there’s still no user manual – without public outcry. They simply work.
Before sending your volunteers into harms way, admins should consider outfitting teammembers with Gotenna devices, Sonim XP8 hardened phones, and Next Radio app (with headphones to serve as an antenna) to allow for offline radio alerts even when cell and wifi networks are down.