Create your own off-the-grid mesh network with Sonnet [Sticky or Not]


Getting off the grid is great and all, but the element of security and ease that technology provides often makes excursions into the wilderness more than a little frustrating.

Toronto-based Sonnet aims to let you have your cake and eat it too, with its self-titled off-grid mobile mesh network devices.

The company describes its product as a device that allows you to use your smartphone as a “super advanced walkie talkie,” able to send instant messages, voice recordings, image data and GPS coordinates. It won’t allow you to do everything you usually can on your phone — but then again, maybe that’s a good thing when you’re just trying to enjoy the great outdoors.

The tool works via long-range radio and connects to a user’s phone via Wi-Fi. To send information over their phone, users just open a browser and visit to https://app.sonnetlabs.com, where they can access Sonnet’s features, including a map tool and messaging platform, all of which can be accessed without any sort of subscription fee.

The range for point-to-point communication is generally about 5km, though Sonnet notes that if user has a far-reaching line-of-sight, range can get up to 15km — for instance, if the users are on a level plain, or if both are on top of mountains.

To further extend range, users can connect their own directional antenna or — more importantly — take advantage of the effects of mesh networking, if there is a large collection of Sonnets in the vicinity. The mesh network allows for data to be relayed up to 16 times, bringing maximum range to 80km.

The company also notes that the Sonnet could be useful to avoid expensive roaming fees or unstable networks when traveling in populated areas or when attending crowded events that overload and congest a network with users. Further, it’s the ideal tool in the event of a natural disaster that causes widespread outages.

The little hexagonal device is IP66 rated and can also charge your phone with its 4,000mAh battery. A pair of Sonnets is currently available to pre-order for $102 CAD on Kickstarter, while a trio costs $145 and five cost $233. The devices are expected to ship by November 2017.

Verdict: Sticky.

Like many techies, the wilderness is not exactly a place I feel comfortable. I tend to miss screens.

But I still recognize the benefits of getting out of the city, breathing some fresh air and staying off social media for a while. That’s why this gadget seems ideal to me. Sonnet gives you a little bit of access to connectivity — but not enough to binge on. Beyond that, it provides a sense of security. You can keep in touch with your group even if you get lost and there’s even a panic button to send an SOS to anyone within range.

My one element of uncertainty comes down to the security of the connection provided by this device, but Sonnet promises all communications are end-to-end encrypted with AES (256-bit) and that the connection between a user’s phone and device is protected through WPA/WPA2. What’s more, if you are using it in a true wilderness situation, there won’t likely be many hackers around to try and find exploits — yet another bonus of getting off the grid.

Note: This post is part of an ongoing series titled Sticky or Not in which Senior Reporter Rose Behar analyzes new and often bizarre gadgets, rating them sticky (good) or not (bad).