Lantern: One Device, Free Data From Space Forever
Global access to the Internet’s best content on your mobile device. Anonymous. Uncensored. Free.
Chicago, Illinois, United States Technology
A Library In Every Pocket
“The Short Wave Radio for the Digital Age.” – Fast Company
“A Tiny Satellite Dish That Brings Info to the World’s Deadzones.” – Wired
“Outernet aims to provide data to the net unconnected.” – BBC
“Billions of people around the world don’t have access to the Internet, so the next big thing is trying to connect the world.” – CNN
Lantern is an anonymous portable library that constantly receives free data from space.
Like the water we drink or the air we breathe, the information we consume feeds the very essence of what it means to be human. Lantern establishes a new baseline of human knowledge. We are not fixing the world for people, we are giving them the information they need to fix it themselves.
Lantern continuously receives radio waves broadcast by Outernet from space. Lantern turns the signal into digital files, like webpages, news articles, ebooks, videos, and music. Lantern can receive and store any type of digital file on its internal drive. To view the content stored in Lantern, turn on the Wi-Fi hotspot and connect to Lantern with any Wi-Fi enabled device. All you need is a browser.
Oh, and Outernet is free to use, always.
When purchasing Lantern through this campaign, you are both advancing the collective potential of our species and receiving a cutting-edge piece of technology.
What will people read about when their governments can no longer censor information?
What problems will we solve when every human can educate themselves?
What inventions will we create when knowledge is universally available?
Buy a Lantern, support Outernet, and help us find the answers. This campaign is to fund the creation of Lantern and a 2 MB/day broadcast on a new frequency that can be received without a dish. The more money we raise, the more we can do - including launching our own satellites into orbit. See our funding timeline below for more details.
Lantern is an amazing device fed by a stream of data from Outernet’s satellite network.
Free data forever. Initially, Lantern will receive about 2 MB/day, though we will increase this number in the future. Depending on the success of this campaign, we could stream data at up to 100 MB/day. And you will never have to pay for data, ever.
Extremely portable. We are in the prototype stage, but the final product will be the size and weight of a standard flashlight.
Solar charged. Plug Lantern in to charge it. When power is not available, just set Lantern in the sun. Lantern receives data in low-power mode and can share downloaded files when its hotspot is turned on.
Lantern Is Fed Information From Outernet, Humanity’s Public Library
Outernet is the most innovative and far-reaching information service ever created, and Lantern makes it even more accessible. Here is a quick overview of how the system works:
Outernet continuously broadcasts data from space. Most of what we broadcast is decided by you. The rest is either part of our Core Archive (critical content, like educational material or disaster updates) or Sponsored Content. In every case, we tell you how the content got there. If it’s sponsored, we tell you who paid for it.
Lantern connects to the satellite signal. A receiver, such as Lantern, can be bought from Outernet, or we’ll show you how to build one yourself. Lantern can receive numerous types of signals from various satellites and frequencies. Lantern can be plugged into a satellite dish to receive data at an even faster rate (200 MB/day and up).
Connect your Wi-Fi enabled device to Lantern. Lantern’s Wi-Fi hotspot allows anyone with a computer, tablet, or phone to interact with Lantern’s content. Everything can be viewed in a browser, just like the Internet, except this is an “offline” version.
Outernet has been commissioned by The World Bank to install hardware in South Sudan across several cities, providing free information access to millions. The World Bank will also be sponsoring content to be delivered by Outernet. This project will begin in early 2015.
Outernet will be working with IREX in Namibia to install receivers in libraries and schools across the country, enabling access to educational content for tens of thousands of children. The project will begin in early 2015.
A Continuously Updated Archive of the Web’s Best Content
Everyone on Earth can use Lantern. See all the ways to use this versatile device and you will start to see all the ways it can change the world.
•Download news, weather, books, videos and audio for FREE
•Access to information, freedom from censorship
•Consume Internet content anonymously
•Bring the best of the Internet with you wherever you go
•Create your own media archive
• Charge your phone with Lantern
What happens when the next Hurricane Katrina or Hurricane Sandy destroys cellular networks? In times of natural disaster or conflict, Outernet still works and will prioritize disaster updates. No one should face crisis without access to updated information. With Lantern, continuously updated information is always available.
All data consumed on Lantern is anonymous. Access to news, civic information, commodity prices, weather, construction plans for open source farm machinery…anything. Outernet eradicates information poverty and censorship everywhere on Earth. Since Lantern is so small, it can be used discreetly. Can’t buy Lantern in your part of the world? We show you how to build one.
A library in every pocket means courseware in any format, from textbooks to videos to software. Young children learning to read and adults learning to code; everyone can benefit from Outernet’s digital media archive. Call it a library or call it a school - it now fits in your pocket.
Other ways to use Lantern:
Wi-Fi Library For Your Kids. Kids love their (or your) mobile devices, now give them a free, safe library to explore. You decide what to keep on Lantern – or add files yourself, so there aren’t any surprises.
Travel Smart. News, Maps, Weather… Everywhere. Have you ever landed abroad and not had data? Never again. Lantern is ideal for the sailor, outdoorsman, pilot, soldier… the list goes on.
Share and Collect Files. No need to pass a flash drive around the room, with Lantern, everyone can share and add information whenever you like. Grant users access to your Lantern and you’re done. Simple.
The Story of Outernet, the Creators of Lantern
Upworthy, BBC, TED, Quartz, Marketplace, VICE, Co.LABS, BITCOIN Magazine, Co.EXIST, WIRED, Smithsonian, CNN, NBC, Gizmodo.
4.3 Billion People Lack Easy Access To Information
4.3 billion people on Earth - the combined populations of Europe and the United States TIMES FOUR - do not have access to the Internet. The majority of humanity does not have access to the enormous library of useful information that we take for granted. Books, courseware, weather information, disaster updates, uncensored news, entertainment, language learning software. What if there was another way to give that to everyone on Earth for free?
Current System: “A Library In Every Village”
Outernet’s current signal requires a dish and enables higher download rates for mass consumption on a school or village level. This campaign is to turn on a new signal that will blanket the entire Earth with free data and can be received on a device that fits in your hand.
Proposed System: “A Library In Every Pocket”
Information should be a public good available to everyone. This new broadcast frequency will enable global coverage to a pocket-sized device. That device is called “Lantern.”
What Could Our Species Accomplish?
Imagine if every person could learn for free?
Imagine if there were no more dark patches of people without access to information?
Imagine if the lights came on?
Never before in human history has there been an opportunity to raise the bar for everyone at once so dramatically. Outernet is such an inflection point.
Currently, Outernet is broadcasting from geostationary satellites thousands of miles above the Earth. This is a Ku-band signal with a footprint which reaches all of North America, Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. We launched this first phase of Outernet on August 11, 2014 to test various elements of the technology, allow users to build receivers and validate our work while providing us with useful feedback.
We are ready for our next step.
How Does Outernet Work?
Below is a nifty infographic that the L.A. Times put together about Outernet. You can see the original with its animation here.
How We Decide What Gets Broadcast
The Outernet broadcast is made up of three components:
The Core Archive is a collection of content selected by Outernet because of its importance to humanity. This will include news, educational content, and disaster updates, when applicable. It is publicly viewable, dynamically edited, and subject to continuous discussion and review.
We are currently compiling a first draft of the Core Archive, which we will publish in November. Here is a sample of what it will include:
Wikipedia, Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, Fedora, and Arch Educational courseware of EdX and Khan Academy, Project Gutenberg books, Open Source Ecology plans, audio and video literacy lessons, regular digests of the Bitcoin Blockchain, compiled news bulletins, disaster updates, OpenStreetMap, commodities information, weather information, and much more. The entire Core Archive will be less than 1 TB. Pared down versions will be considerably smaller.
The Queue is content that is requested and voted on by global citizens. Anyone can request content and we are constantly endeavoring to create more channels for users to submit requests. Content request channels include SMS, Facebook Zero, Twitter, and the Outernet website. A combination of popularity and origin of the request (higher priority being given to areas where there are greater barriers to making a request) determine broadcast eligibility and frequency.
Sponsored content can be submitted by anyone. Think of it like an ad in a newspaper; you pay to have your content distributed alongside organically selected material. Sponsored content is flagged as such and its sponsor is identified. To add your content, select the $25 reward above. After IndieGoGo, this feature will remain available on a per MB basis.
For a more in-depth discussion on this, see this piece in Quartz by Outernet’s Archive Editor, Thane Richard.
Outernet is supported by the Media Development Investment Fund, an impact investment fund which provides financing to ventures that provide the news, information and debate that people need to build free, thriving societies. Since 1996, MDIF has invested $130 million in 105 different companies in more 36 countries. Outernet is thrilled to be supported by such a knowledgable and impactful organization.
Amazing Project Partners
“Harvard supports open access to peer-reviewed faculty scholarship, and the participation of our open-access repository in Outernet is entirely consonant with our mission to enhance the distribution, visibility, and usage of Harvard research." – Peter Suber, Director of the Harvard Library Office for Scholarly Communication
“Outernet shares many of the same values as [Deutsche Welle], including the belief that access to knowledge and information is a human right.” – Deutsche Welle
“I’m thrilled at the Outernet vision of free-to-air broadcast of eBooks and other content. I am enthusiastic about Outernet’s effort to bring eBooks from Project Gutenberg and other great collections to a broader audience.” – Greg Newby, Director of the Project Gutenberg Literary Archive Foundation
“We see a world of prosperity that doesn’t leave anyone behind. We see a world of interdisciplinary, synergistic systems thinking – not the isolated silos of today’s world.” – Marcin Jakubowski, Founder of Open Source Ecology
“Our organisation is committed to free speech around the world and is always interested in new technology which helps achieve this goal." – Andy Clark, Deputy Editor in Chief at RNW
The Nitty Gritty: How Lantern Works
The amazing part about Lantern, and Outernet in general, is that we are not inventing anything new. There is no miracle processor to distribute or new protocol to adopt. We are simply being clever about using existing technology, which means we have the greatest chance of reaching everyone, immediately. This is deliberate. We know we cannot sell Lanterns to everyone. When people all over the world begin building Lanterns (and maybe even selling their own versions), we pop a bottle of champagne.
But how does it actually work? Lantern tunes into multiple frequencies across a wide band of spectrum. It receives radio signals from 2 MHz all the way up to 1900 MHz. This multi-frequency approach allows for reception from numerous broadcast platforms. A huge volume of content can be access via Ku-band satellites, though an external satellite dish. Lantern has several connection points for external antenna in order both increase signal quality and tune into specific channels.
While on the go, Lantern relies on its internal antenna to receive content from satellite operators, such as Iridium and Inmarsat. It is also able to receive UHF signals, which are more common in smaller Low Earth Orbit satellites and is also where Outernet’s own satellite constellation will eventually transmit. And we aren’t just limiting Lantern to satellite signals–shortwave data is also in the mix.
Once the tuner selects the frequency, and the demodulator turns the waves into bits, the data is passed on to Lantern’s compute module, which is similar to what powers many cellphones all over the world. At this stage, these bits are turned into digital files, which are all stores in a directory to be shared over Lantern’s wifi hotspot.
Although this is a very basic description of how Lantern works, the one thing to remember is that Lantern is really a pretty simple device. The biggest difference from conventional broadcast receivers, like television and radio, is that Lantern only listens to signals which are transmitting bits of data. After those bits have been stored, Lantern is really nothing more than a wifi hotspot. The best way to think of Lantern is a cross between an FM radio and Linksys router. It’s really that simple.
Technical Depth and Expertise
Saankhya Labs is a semiconductor company which produces low-cost software-defined receivers for audio, video, and data communications. Their innovative technology powers a wideband tuner and demodulator, which is the heart of Lantern.
West Pond Technologies specializes in developing turnkey computing devices for for niche markets. Their core area of expertise is in hardware and firmware development of unidirectional data services. The principals at WPT have been working closely with Outernet from the very start and have decades of experience bringing hardware to market.
Q Space Systems provides a host of mission engineering and technical consulting services for Outernet. Its small team of practitioners has over 75 years of experience in executing space flight programs. Additionally, QSS has partnered with Tolerant Network Solutions, which provides unique capabilities for developing disruption-tolerant networks across mixed-domain space-terrestrial architectures.
The Outernet Team
Syed Karim, Founder and CEO
Chicago, USA | @SyedKarim
Syed Karim is the founder and CEO of Outernet. He oversees all operations and directs the activities of the team and coordinate those with the work of Outernet’s partners in line with Outernet’s strategic goals.
Prior to Outernet, he spent three years leading the investment process for news and information startups in emerging and frontier markets. Before Digital News Ventures, Syed lead product development at one the country’s largest public broadcasters, Chicago Public Media. His interest in the economic and social impact of universal information access began in graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After having lived in four countries, done business in twelve, and visited enough corners of the world to fill two passports, he is convinced that the only thing that separates one human from the next is the degree and quality of information access.
Thane Richard, COO
Detroit, USA | @ThaneRichard
Thane leads all external aspects of Outernet. This includes telling the world about Outernet (marketing), communicating Outernet’s message (PR), getting devices into the hands of users and organizations (sales), and building the archive of what Outernet broadcasts (editorial).
Prior to Outernet, Thane founded Jaunt, a journalism startup in Detroit that launched on stage at the LAUNCH conference in San Francisco and received an offer from a leading accelerator program. Thane also covered the 2014 Indian general election for Quartz, which was the largest election in human history and took place over the course of six weeks.
Thane graduated with honors from Brown University in 2009 with a dual degree in Economics and Development Studies. Previous exploits include riding his bicycle across the continental United States, riding as a cowboy in Montana, working as a Strategy Manager for a leading Indian multinational and founding an Indian online “pirate radio” network of news and current events, a topic that is still banned on Indian FM stations.
Branko Vukelic, Software Architect
Kraljevo, Serbia | brankovukelic.com
Branko heads all software development at Outernet, including the software that operates Outernet receivers, the content suggestion engine, how content gets broadcast and, of course, the Outernet website.
The son of a language professor and a journalist-translator, Branko grew up surrounded by tall bookshelves and thousands of books. At the same time, computers were also present in his environment since early childhood. His early career gravitated towards book design where he learned that designing books is all about designing interfaces for the reader. He soon moved into web design because he saw the web as the ultimate vessel for information, as well as a more complete composition of elements that had marked his childhood. Then, expanding into programming, he started thinking about the bigger picture of how to relay information, and not just transform it.
Rachel Gottleib Feinberg, Director of Program Development and Women’s Initiatives
As Director of Program Development and Women’s Initiatives, Rachel develops programs to achieve United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, and actively ensures women are direct beneficiaries of the opportunities Outernet technology provides.
Rachel’s desire to have a social impact started as a child. Growing up in a humanitarian-focused family, which included medical missionaries and members of the German Resistance, she was instilled with altruistic values, a deep sense of justice, and a strong drive to understand people and help improve their lives.
Rachel studied psychology at Lake Forest College, with a social and cross-cultural focus. After graduating, she spent 6 years as an advertising and marketing analyst across an array of industries. At Outernet, Rachel reconnects with her passion for promoting positive social change.
Frequently Asked Questions
Outernet is an audacious project, but it is completely feasible. There are numerous hurdles that stand in our way and we are ready to face them. Here are many of the questions we have received in forums, on Reddit, over social media, and in our inboxes answered by Syed Karim, Outernet’s CEO:
Why are you trying to give people free information when millions of people are starving?
When reduced to this simple metric for making a difference, why are any of us doing any of our jobs (except those that are feeding people)? Though, this question gets at a bigger idea of why prioritize information access on the long list of global problems to solve. The subject has been studied extensively, but the first to come to mind is Amartya Sen, who wrote in his book Development as Freedom about this very issue. In one example, he cited the 1974 Bangladeshi famine during which food production was ironically quite high. He points to the failure of governance, rather than a food shortage, as the reason. This is just one example. A better predictor of quality of life is not abundance of resources (see Africa) but the level of freedom enjoyed by the population. When it comes to advancing freedom, there is no better tool than information.
Who operates the Outernet Project? (how many people, which company, how many partners, etc.)
Outernet Inc operates the transmission. We have probably a dozen or so people from both within the company as well as close partners that are integral to making this all work.
How is the Outernet project financed, and how big is the budget?
We are a private company that has received seed financing by a media-focused impact investment fund: Media Development Investment Fund.
What is the actual state of the Outernet project? (how many satellites, how many users, in how many areas is Outernet already possible)?
We are on two satellites now, but expect to be on five or six by the end of the year, which will give us fully global coverage. We can currently reach all of North America, Europe, and MENA. We are in the process of acquiring a Sub-Saharan signal at the moment.
There are projects with similar goals, like Project Loon from Google and Internet.org from Facebook. How are these other projects different from Outernet?
Those are not similar services as they are trying to provide two-way Internet to everyone. That is a commendable goal and we absolutely want them to succeed, but it will also be a fee-based service. Outernet’s signal is free to receive. There are also sovereign air space issues with Internet devices, like balloons and drones, inside the atmosphere. Breaking censorship will be difficult in places where a free Internet is unwanted. You also encounter enormous spectrum regulation when the user device goes from being a receiver to a transmitter (it talks back). So you can see they are not competing services, as we are solving a problem for a different segment of the market.
Does Outernet ever plan to offer Internet service?
Some day we do intend to offer two-way Internet access; maybe sooner than we had previously thought. That being said, we believe there should always be a bare minimum of broadcast data, just like the advent of Netflix does not mean we should eliminate public television. A one-way data cast ensures anonymity - no one can track what you choose to keep and use from our broadcast. With Outernet, we are raising the bar for everyone and any additional services, like a two-way connection, would be additional value built on that elevated foundation.
What is your revenue model?
We have several revenue lines, which increase and decrease relative to each other, based on where we are in the company’s growth. Those revenue lines are:
Project support services
Retainers for communication services
What is the bandwidth used for up and downloads?
Since we are hooking directly into the satellite operator’s infrastructure, our uplink bandwidth is really not measured. Our download speeds, however, range from 100 kbps to 25 Mbps. Technically, we are able to burst to download speeds of 80 Mbps, but we prefer to make content available to small-sized antenna, so we will likely limit download speeds to 25 Mbps. A 25 Mbps downlink can deliver 10 GB of data over the course of an hour. Bandwidth is a function of antennae size (Is there a dish?) and frequency. For Lantern, the download rate will begin at 2 MB/day. From there, we can unlock different regions as we raise more funds to rent more satellite capacity.
Are you looking to put cubesats into sub-orbital or orbital paths?
Cubesats are one option for owning our own infrastructure. It is simply a platform and there are a couple other form factors with even more heritage that could perform just as well (if not better). Though it makes tremendous strategic sense to eventually own our infrastructure, this is a costly proposition (around $10 million). From the perspective of delivering data to a mobile receiver, we could use both geostationary infrastructure as well as existing LEO assets for a mobile service. Deploying our own constellation across numerous planes reduces the risk that our service will be shut down due to the delivery of content that has been censored by some sovereigns.
How do you address the 3 week decay rate at 90 miles up in sub-orbit?
We would never deploy to a 90-mile orbit. Our target planes are an equatorial orbit, sun-synchronous orbit, as well as a 60-degree inclination at between 500 and 600 kilometers. The mission duration at that altitude is five years. Early next year, we may be leasing a small satellite that is already at that altitude and it has been operating for 10 years.
What is the present cost to launch a series of cube sats and who would do so?
Our target price for a cubesat is $100,000 per unit, with another $100,000 allocated to the launch of each satellite. A point to consider, however, is that the determining factor is not the number of cubesats or their sizes, but the data delivered to the ground on a daily basis. The real metric is therefore the cost per daily global megabyte. We could achieve global coverage through as few as 12 satellites to a 600 km orbit. The unit cost of each of those microsatellites is higher than a cubesat, but the mission duration and global coverage is superior. There are actually quite a few variables at play, which make this a somewhat complicated question to answer. But a quick and direct answer to your question is that we could deploy a globally accessible constellation for as little as $6M and do so within 18 months. We have launches already identified.
What about censorship of the whole concept? Many governments may not like uncontrolled data streams and many are already intercepting everything.
We planned for anti-censorship from the beginning. Our mobile receiver, which I have written very little about, is a frequency agile receiver. This means that if one frequency is jammed, we simply move to an alternative–and can do this across 5 difference channels (or more). Since Outernet is a broadcast solution, the monitoring stations are actually irrelevant, since the reception of broadcast content ensures the anonymity of consumption. Since we use existing spectrum licenses, our anti-censorship plan is all perfectly legal and abides by all restrictions of local jurisdictions. But since we are broadcasting data in a multi-channel, multi-speed, and super duplicated manner, it just makes it hard to selectively censor specific works that we distribute. Of course, a government is always able to continuously jam all of our frequencies (this is a little more difficult for certain bands), but which government wants to be the one that is publicly known for disrupting humanity’s public library? My hypothesis is that our global brand equity will offer more resilience to government censorship than any of our technical strategies.
Did we not answer your question? Visit our forums to see if it has already been answered or be the first one to ask it - others are probably wondering too. Still nothing? Send us an email at [email protected].
Other Ways You Can Help
Not in a position to donate financially? We understand. Indeed, we are focused on delivering a service traditionally cost prohibitive to our users. If you cannot contribute, help get our campaign in front of those who can:
•Share our campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and any other platform you like. The more people who know, the bigger the library we can build!
•Tell us something you would like to have included in our library by visiting whiteboard.outernet.is.
•Watch our videos and ask others to watch them too.
•Support our partners. We work with amazing organizations whose content makes Outernet a more valuable service.
Thank you for your support!