Data from space: How Outernet will provide free information to the entire world

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Imagine a world where everyone, not just the privileged, had access to information that is free from censorship, universally accessible and, best of all, does not cost anything.

That’s the vision of the team at US organisation Outernet who are hoping to bring data to the 4 billion people who do not have access to it at present.

However, they face stiff competition from major global companies, such as Google and Facebook, who are also trying to bring internet to the world.

Unlike the projects from the major players, Outernet want to make the data they provide free – to everyone.

The CEO and founder of Outernet Syed Karim, speaking from his office in Chicago, said the vision is to help connect people around the world to a system where they are able to access information.

He told Factor: “The objective of Outernet is to provide a basic level of universally acceptable news, information and education to everyone in the world.

“When we say everyone it is independent or income, infrastructure or jurisdiction and geography.

“What we’re trying to do is create a broad cast data service that allows everyone to participate in the consumption of various ideas and conversations that are taking place on the internet but also doing it in a manner that does not require an internet connection.”

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Outernet will create a constellation of small satellites that will broadcast data via radio waves from a series of miniature satellites and existing infrastructure in geostationary orbit.

By transmitting the data via radio waves this means it cannot easily be blocked by nations willing to suppress information.

To stop any claims that the available information is biased or censored in any way, it will be selected by community users and reflect what there is a demand for.

Possible suggestions include international news, crop prices for farmers, Wikipedia, open access educational courses and maps.

As Outernet will not relay on cellular networks, it can also be used to broadcast messages and information in the event of an natural disaster.

Outernet isn’t just a pipedream either – Karim says the testing of satellites and broadcasting equipment is due to take place during the year, with some starting as early as July.

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Google’s Loon project, which the company has already been testing, involves flying balloons into the stratosphere and allowing people to connect to them using a special antenna attached to their building. Meanwhile, Facebook has confirmed it is building drones and satellites to also try and provide internet to the world.

It’s not only the products that the technology giants are launching that could be a worry for Outernet, but it is also the colossal amount of financial power and access to resources at their disposal. 

However Karim seems unphased by these, saying the product he is working on is very different to that of its competitors. There are also plenty of investors interested in his organisation’s work.

“It’s not that big of a funding question when speak to people in the industry about satellites this isn’t a hugely expensive proposition especially for a utility that is involved with the value that is created,” he said.

“With the investors that we have lined up and the interest that has been shown it’s more of a case of moving through the milestones and going forward.

“We could potentially see two regions being ready by the summer and potentially light up to the rest of the world by the end of the year.”


This is an excerpt from the first issue of Factor Magazine for iPad. Get the Factor app to read the full article and more features from the world of technology, science and innovation. 

Images two and three courtesy of Outernet


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