Outernet wants to create a free global Wi-Fi network that can bypass internet censorship
Outernet wants to create a free global Wi-Fi network that can bypass internet censorshipOuternet

A group of individuals in New York are trying to give the world free global internet via a network of miniature satellites broadcasting Wi-Fi down from space.

Outernet, formed by Aaron Rogers, Branko Vukelic, Edward Birrane and Syed Karim, has been working since December 2013 to bring their technology to life, with the aim of bridging the global information divide.

The project would like to provide free access to international news, crop prices for farmers, educational courseware such as Teachers Without Borders, Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap, and even access to the free downloadable Linux computer operating system Ubuntu.

So how does it work?

Outernet's Wi-Fi solution works by using hundreds of tiny 10cm cube-shaped satellites called "cubesats", which are cheap to produce and can be towed into space on the back of International Space Station resupply missions, then tossed into space and left to obit around the earth.

Along with being compliant with the wireless computer networking standard IEEE 802.11, the constellation of cubesats would use standardised radio protocols as well as Wi-Fi multicasting.

Wi-Fi multicasting is a technology currently used in stadiums and large event venues to improve Wi-Fi coverage in crowded areas, by providing at least 156 access points in each stadium and stronger antennas that can stream videos without congesting the Wi-Fi network.

"Each satellite receives data streams from a network of ground stations and transmits that data in a continuous loop until new content is received. In order to serve the widest possible global audience, the entire constellation utilises UDP-based multicasting over Wi-Fi," Outernet says on its website.

Bypass internet censorship

If such a Wi-Fi network were to work, it would allow users to bypass any internet censorship policies that their governments have in place, which would be useful in countries like China and North Korea.

However in densely populated areas like cities, which already have 3G and 4G networks, as well as public and private Wi-Fi hotspots, the solution probably wouldn't work as the radio frequencies will be full, so Outernet's Wi-Fi would ideally benefit areas with no access to Wi-Fi at all.

The network could also be used as a global notification system during emergencies and natural disasters, when mobile base stations and power grids go offline.

According to Project Lead Syed Karim, who answered questions from users on Reddit, the price of launching just 1kg into space would be $125,000 (£74,778), but the price becomes much cheaper if you purchase the weight in bulk.

Outernet's ambitious project is being backed by the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF), with the hope that the Outernet satellites can begin to be deployed in space in June 2015.

If you're interested in the project, you can discuss Outernet's concept on its forums, and also make donations of $5 or more.