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Outernet explained: Broadcasting the content of the Web

Imagine life without the Internet. That's the reality for much of the world — almost 5 billion people — in heavily censored or remote areas where the Internet remains largely unavailable. Outernet, a New York-based tech company, wants to change that.

Starting Aug. 11, Outernet will broadcast by satellite more than 5,000 Wikipedia articles, along with several other pieces of Internet content. Anyone in North America or Europe with a small satellite dish and some hardware will be able to receive and locally download the information—almost like a DVR for the Internet.

What is Outernet?

Outernet is not the Internet. Instead, it operates like two one-way-streets, one between the user and Outernet, and one between Outernet and their satellites. The company has leased bandwidth on two geostationary satellites, which reach all of North America and Europe. Outernet plans to achieve worldwide access by the end of the year.

Where is Outernet available?

Dish size needed to receive signal

100 in. 20 in.

How does it work?

1

Outernet downloads the files it will eventually transmit (from Wikipedia, Coursera or elsewhere) and saves them offline. The files are stripped of any broken links, reformatted into bare-bones versions of the originals and sent to its servers.

2

Outernet's satellite dish beams data from its servers to a satellite.

The satellite broadcasts the information back down as radio waves.

A small Ku-band satellite dish receives the data and, using a DVB-S tuner, connects to a Raspberry Pi, a tiny, portable computer.

Ku-band satellite

A small satellite dish and antenna (22-60 inches) used to receive television and radio signals.
Price: $45-$200

DVB-S tuner

A portable tuner that receives data from the satellite dish. The tuner connects to the dish with a cable.
Price: $20-$30

Raspberry Pi

A small, credit-card sized computer that can be used with a desktop, laptop or television to view information downloaded from Outernet.
Price: $30-$40

3

Downloaded data are saved to a hard drive. Information shared by Outernet will be organized in a tier-like setup:

  • Large directories: up to one week for download
  • Medium directories: up to a day
  • Small directories: up to one or two hours

Data will be updated on a weekly or biweekly basis. Devices that are tuned in to Outernet will receive these updates automatically.

4

Users can share the information on their local computer networks.

How is new content requested?

Currently, there are several different ways users can request new content from Outernet:

Facebook: Users with access to data and Internet can post requests on Outernet's Facebook wall.

Facebook Zero: Those without data access can use Facebook Zero, a plain text version of the original.

Snail mail: Outernet users can send physical letters to the company's New York headquarters.

SMS: In the near future, Outernet plans to set up a system for receiving requests via SMS.

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