Blocking issues for an open enthusiast

i am not convinced by this project. i would really like to contribute, and I think the ideas are really interesting, but I have a few concerns which are blockers for me before I finance it.

  1. the designs, both software and hardware, are proprietary. this means that we can’t replicate or fix those devices in the field, or improve them ourselves, which makes us entirely dependent on a central authority for the project, which seems in contradiction with the project (this is discussed further here)

  2. long term viability of the financial aspects of the projects. how will those satellites be kept in space on the long term? those are very expensive machines, and i haven’t been convinced by the (lack of) information about how this will be kept working “free and forever”

  3. how is data stored on the device? the designs I have seen do not seem to feature any significant storage to store the “core archive”, which seems to be aimed at being < 1TB. all I see are flash cards, which are far from that range, and do not seem to be preloaded. Wikipedia, in itself, is already 20GB, how will that be stored and transmitted? certainly not with 2MB/day…

  4. how is content decided? a lot of things are said about avoiding “censorship” in “other regimes” but what about censorship in the US? Outernet “Inc” will be central organisation that will ultimately control the content that is broadcast over the Outernet network, doesn’t that make it vulnerable to censorship just like any other media broadcaster?

  5. one way communication. being one of the founders of the local wifi mesh networks, i can certainly appreciate the technical difficulties with creating such a project, and understand why it is restricted to broadcasting. but in doing so, aren’t we falling back in the last century trap of “broadcasting”, which has seen (for example) radio being used to do terrible things like the nazi and rwanda genocides? how will people contribute to content if all they have is that receiver?

i find the device and the project really interesting, but I can’t see myself supporting the project until those issues are adressed in one way or the other.

thanks for considering my questions.

Sorry, this has been discussed elsewhere, so I won’t answer to your individual points. Please see threads in the FAQ section.

Bottom line is, we’re a start-up, and there are many problems that we still have to solve. As I mentioned before in other threads, we prioritize ‘working’ over ‘ideal’ and we try not to loose sight of ideal along the way.

Your best bet is to get involved in solving those problems instead of asking us how we plan to solve them. For instance, there’s an ongoing thread about ways to deal with voting on what content should be broadcast, which is the first step towards having the community own that part of Outernet. I think it would be more constructive if you presented your view in that thread, for instance.

Anyhow, I’m always around to discuss solutions, and so is Syed, our CEO.

  1. Yep it’s a problem. It would be good if there was some more information about what is being proposed technically. It would make it easier to help.

  2. It’s an ad supported model, No info on how much advertising yet…

  3. 4Gb flash card shipped in the lantern, upgradable. They conflate the high data (static Satellite dish) service with the mobile low data rate UHF service which is confusing.

  4. Yes. Smells very US centric; at the moment.

  5. I think this is just a technical constraint. Is having some information better than none?

@branko - if you could refer to individual threads, it would be useful, but so far i haven’t found any answer to my questions, really. for example, even the license question, in the FAQ, refers to the FAQ!

my suggestion, to put it broadly, would be to narrow the scope of the project. the internet archive, the wikimedia foundation and other similar projects already struggle with creating community-drive contents and while the project description seems to be saying that they will reuse this yet there is a complete separate editorial project in here, on top of the huge logistical challenges.

there’s already plenty of work to do to design a generic, open hardware and open software radio/meshing datasharing device without having to become an editor and a space agency at the same time.

but then that’s just me: i do get involve in some of those projects. i’m an editor on wikipedia, a developer in debian, i maintain a freedombox and i run a node in the local wireless mesh, and i have a day job on top of that in a computing worker’s coop. i was just bringing some questions I felt needed to be answered clearly. it’s unfortunate that there’s a reluctance to even answer those questions.

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  1. agreed.
  2. there has to be even some napkin calculations on how a budget has be built for that project. seeing this would encourage me to contribute.
  3. agreed.
  4. agreed.
  5. having some information is better than none, but the truth is, it’s not “none” right now. humankind has been pretty efficient at communicating in a lot of ways, including in areas we don’t typically consider “connected to the internet”, where the big medium is SMS, which is used for everything from personnal chats to banking and news. HF radio is still alive and kicking and while there are severe restrictions on the content that can be broadcast over the airwaves, it is an open medium in case of emergencies and designs are fairly opened. both of those mediums are two ways.

broadcasting is not just a “technical constraint”, it’s a fundamental design flaw that has profound political and philosophical impacts. choosing that way early in the project will make it go strongly in a centralised, some would even say, colonial direction, which is unfortunate.

Look in the FAQ category. There are many similar questions there.

As branko is currently the only coder on the Outernet team, i think he is a little too busy to field questions. As such, i would be happy to field them with the disclaimer that the information i have is subject to change and is not finalized.

@anarcat here is a numerical response;

  1. I believe they are proprietary due to the price difference between renting a manufacturing plant to produce open source hardware and simply purchasing pre-fabricated parts.
  2. This will be taken care of (in the short term) by using satellites in a degrading orbit, currently plans are being planned about getting a specific deal on satellites in a particular phase of their orbit for cheaper than it would be otherwise. The launching satellite phase of the project is much further down the road, to my understanding
  3. This i’ve no idea about, but i’m sure it’s findable in the specs.
  4. This is something that the outernet team has several opinions on. TBD
  5. I would say that this question is more of a “which medium is better” and they’ve already picked their medium with the full understanding of benefits/drawbacks. There are a number of thoughts on how to address this, such as àservice who’s name i’ve forgotten that people use to communicate to cell phone providers with older phones.

I would love to finish tthis now, but i’m currently late for work (again due to my interest in outernet) and must depart. I think the only reason branko hasn’t sat down and spelled it out is he’s super busy, so his suggestion to look around should really be followed.

Outernet adds a needed interface proven technology. IP multicast via satellite has been used commercially for over a decade.

If you don’t like what Outernet is broadcasting, or Outernet broadcasts cease, you can uplink your own data stream to Outernet Laterns and DIY receivers. Many commercial satellite broadcasters will be happy to carry your data, if you are paying.

If you really want to DIY, you can put together your own satellite uplink and just rent space directly on a satellite (FCC license required for US ground stations):

software-defined DVB-S2 transmitter:

USRP B200 (Ettus, $675)

Mitec 25W Ku-Band SSPA/BUC (ebay, $2,500)


Plus cabling and probably a pre-amp. This list is just the results of a quick search. I haven’t done link budget calculations. But, this is about what you’d need.

Yes, you’d have to reconfigure Tvheadend on each client. But, there is no lock-in with Outernet, as far as I can tell.

So, back to the original “Blocking Issues:”

  1. “entirely dependent on a central authority for the project”

No. See above.

  1. “how will those satellites be kept in space on the long term?”

Galaxy 19 will be in orbit until EOL, then it will be replaced by another bird in the same orbital slot. That’s how commercial satellite works.

  1. “how is data stored on the device?”

It’s stored in files. How is this a “blocking issue?”At 2MB/day, even 4GB will last a really long time.

2MB is around 10,000 PAGES of text per day. Stop and think about that for a moment. 10,000 pages per day. Streaming video, photos and MP3’s are great, but how much could just raw text change the world?

  1. “how is content decided?”

  1. “one way communication.”

That’s the point. Think back a couple of decades. People went to the library to READ! Yes, the internet is great. But, broadcasting can get the most data to the most people at the lowest cost.

The Outernet Libarian and ORx-install are GPL v3 licensed. If that’s all the world gets out of this project, the world will be a better place.

If you’re waiting for a project to be “completely open source” before you contribute, I think you’ll spend a lot of time waiting and very little time contributing to anything.

BTW, I’m pretty sure my mouse uses closed-source software. But, I use it anyway.


Hi Glenn

Yes, you’d have to reconfigure Tvheadend on each client. But, there is no lock-in with Outernet, as far as I can tell.

That would be great. It wasn’t what I understood, but I could well be wrong. In the other FOSS software thread where we were discussing Opencaster Branko wrote

and a matching client for the receiver end 


Which implied to me that the lanterns would be ship with software to decode the (as yet unspecified) proprietary encoding. I could be wrong on this. Perhaps @Syed could clarify?

I’d still be interested in hearing more about the costs of Opencaster as it seems technically able to do the job. I’m curious as to why it is more expensive than the propriety route.

I think the encoding is so people can’t pretend to be outernet so easily. I don’t know that the encoding is more than a signature stamp.

You can build your own receiver, but you’re stuck with the client software that Outernet provides. This is pretty much a classic example of vendor lock-in. I hope you all understand this was not by design and was not our intention. It’s a trade-off we had to make to get Outernet off the ground fast.

There’s couple of ways I can think of that could fix this (and this expressing my own opinions not Outernet’s, yada yada).

One is to fund-raise for the release of ONDD (client software). I’m not sure how much cash would make this happen, but I could ask if enough people care. Since Outernet is currently already fund-raising for Lantern, I think the best bet would be for this to be a community initiative. It would also give us a good clue as to the urgency of this issue.

Another way is to change the data stream so it uses some kind of data carousel standard (e.g., DSM-CC) and preferably already has an open-source client that can consume it. We’ve been looking at this option since launch (OpenCaster, for instance), but no cost-effective solution as of yet.

Third way is an extension of the second one and it’s a community-operated data carousel encoder. If enough expert volunteers join their forces and agree to set up and operate the carousel encoder, we would probably use it. Personally, I think this would be a great approach since it’s more in line with our ultimate goals.

Could @Syed or someone say a bit more about how using free software works out more expensive than proprietary?

Is Opencaster less good at compressing files so you have to send more data? Do they want a thousand dollars a second for support calls? What;'s the problem with Opencaster?

@sam_uk Sure, I’m happy to. The general idea to understand is that just because something is free, doesn’t mean it’s cheap. For example, you could run your own mail server, instead of paying for MailChimp–or whatever example you want to use, such as Dropbox, Heroku, Windows, etc. And cheaper does not mean just no monthly license fee. Cheaper also means not having access to people with years of experience with the DVB-spec and interacting with satellite operators. Or access to relationships at the chip-level, as well as contract manufacturers who are known to delivery on time.

We spent a long while looking for examples of OpenCaster being used in production broadcast data applications and with firms that had experience doing large scale OTA updates, as well as hardware/firmware development. We came up empty handed.

Our goal is to deliver information for free and do so quickly. I like open source, but just because it’s open, does not mean it’s better, especially when longer-term business objectives are put into perspective. Think of a normal public library. They provide information at no cost, but they run all kinds of proprietary software to keep the operation humming.

But like @branko said, we may open source ONDD some day, or create a variant that can be open sourced. Or maybe just switch to OpenCaster if that ends up doing everything we need it do.

Out of curiosity, is the code behind Github also open source?

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There is a reason companies like MailChimp exist and are cost effective compared to hiring a full time team.

Free software specifically works out to be more expensive when the cost of hiring someone to manage the software exceeds the total price of hiring a company that uses proprietary software to install and manage the software.
My question is what the problem with making use of proprietary software is. I understand that ideally free systems are great as everybody can use them and modify them, but this isn’t always necessary, especially if there are multiple ways to recieve and decode the transmission, whatever it is. I think it’s also important to realize that this is a startup, and while they are technically doing what they started up to do, they also have much more they’d like to accomplish with this project. As there is only one coder on the team, it makes sense to me that the focus is on realworld applications for many of the members.

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Hi Ben, Syed

Thanks. I understand the principles of TCO. I was asking for specifics in this case. Syed has given some hints;

So it looks to me that this isn’t about software per say. It’s about a company offering a bunch of services, that are really helpful. A condition of using those services is using their protocol/software?

[quote=“Ben, post:14, topic:906”]
it makes sense to me that the focus is on realworld applications for many of the members.
[/quote] It also sometimes makes sense to have a long term strategic overview.

Vendor Lock In

In short the scenario is this: Helpful company X who insist on using their protocol jack up their prices x 5 next year, or just go bust.

There is no way of getting data to the lanterns & they end up as expensive landfill.

If an open client/ protocol is used instead, then you can use another company, or develop the expertise yourself.

Yes, that was what I was trying to express. What specifics could Syed have given to allow you to be comfortable with a proprietary plarform?

While i agree, that is not always the most useful thing for the beginning of a project. And i would defintiely consider outernet in its “beginnings” as they’re still in the first half of the acheivement of their goals and are looking primarily at money as an obstacle.

@Syed please correct me if i’m wrong, but as far as prices are concerned there is absolutely no way to charge anybody for the service. And if the company does bust i am reasonably certain that it would not be beyond branko or someone else on the team to push one last software update so it can recieve other transmissions.
I would also like to point out that the title of this post is “enthusiast.” If you can find a team of professionals who do what the outernet team have been making use of proprietary software for in open source i would be surprised if they were not interested in exploring the cost-effectiveness of that option.

Ben: Sorry I wasn’t clear. I wasn’t saying Outernet would charge, or go bust (Although both are possibilities worth considering)

The point I was making is that the company Outernet are contracting with for datacasting can do those things.

Company X (Can we just know the name of this company?!) can charge Outernet whatever it likes for datacasting services. Outernet is locked into a perpetual contract with this company as Outernet can’t use their software or encoding format without their consent. It can’t put new client software on the lanterns without visiting each and every remote location they have been sent to.

By putting proprietary software on the lanterns (which can’t be overwritten with a OTA upgrade) the fortunes of this entire endeavour are tied to the fortunes of some third party company that we’re not even allowed to know the name of.

@Ben You are correct in all of your assumption:

  • Correct, this is a free-to-air data broadcast; the best model to keep in mind is FM radio
  • We aren’t opposed to sticking OpenCaster on a server and sending a DSMCC client at a later date, but we don’t want to experiment right, right now. We want to offer a useful service as soon as possible. There is no technical reason we could not make the switch, or have both operating side-by-side, and see which one performs better.
  • Correct about the team of professionals.

One thing to keep in mind is that there are a lot of moving pieces involved with making all of this work; nothing exists in a silo. Many of the moving pieces we can speak about publicly, but on other things we are either behind NDAs, or they aren’t at the point where it makes sense to create a discussion–just yet.

I am still curious about how further information of the broadcasting company would make you amiable to proprietary software.

Branko says the lantern will and i quote “Lantern will probably have the capability to upgrade its software completely via the broadcast.” And if it does, can we replace software? “Yes 99% it will be possible to replace the software.” This is via a chat, so obviously grammar is not that necessary. :wink:

@sam_uk You can probably figure out who that company is just by reading the entire IGG campaign. I can assure you that Company X won’t be doing anything you just described; we’ve spent a lot of time thinking through all of the points you outlined.

And why would we need to go to each Lantern in the field to send a software or firmware update? We’ll be delivering new waveforms for the modulator OTA; sending a new receive-client would be no different.