Daniela Perdomo credits the absence of basic communication services after superstorm Sandy for inspiring GoTenna Inc., a do-it-yourself wireless network that can carry text messages to Androids and Apple iPhones.
Perdomo, 29, a Sao Paulo native and Tufts University grad, started GoTenna in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with her brother Jorge in March 2013. She spent the months after the storm bouncing her idea for a low-fi communications network off telecom and technology experts until she had a theoretical product. That led to a prototype cigar-sized antenna that connects phones via public, unlicensed airwaves.
GoTenna's sales debut is today. The antennas are sold in pairs for $149.99 with no additional service charges. The antennas make up the network, and the service operates independently from cellular or Wi-Fi networks. The signal range is anywhere from 50 miles to several blocks, depending on interference.
``This is completely different. There's no market for what they do now, the closest category would be walkie-talkies. But there are a number of uses for this technology, which really drove our interest,'' said Alberto Escarlate with Collaborative Fund, an early investor in GoTenna.
Some of the uses for the point-to-point communication include outdoor adventurers who travel beyond the reach of cellular networks, concertgoers who want to coordinate locations, and even survivalists who may stow it in their emergency packs, said Charlie O'Donnell, with Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, also an early GoTenna investor. The devices also offer privacy for groups who want to communicate off the grid, he said.
Bloomberg Beta, backed by Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP, is also an early-stage investor.
While the target customer base seems limited, and the amount of information that can be carried on GoTenna is limited to text messages and GPS locations, O'Donnell said it could catch on.
``If you put enough of those niche users together, you could get to a critical mass in a city,'' O'Donnell said. ``You could have density enough to reach lots of people.''