Outernet is a marketing scam, and nothing more


#1

Much like the solar roadway, and Mars One, this is yet another pie in the sky fundraising effort that will yield zero useful results.
This is not the internet. This is satellite-based one-way data transmission. The funny thing is that by using shortwave radio, data transmission at bitrates likely much higher than this system could ever achieve is already possible. So an effort to implement a one-way information distribution system could be funded, designed, and implemented today no need for $12 billion, using existing technologies.

Two-way communications with satellites in low earth orbit is very difficult. The satellites are only overhead for about 2 to 6 minutes. Amateur radio operators who work satellites have to plot out when they will be overhead, and using a high-gain antenna track them. A cellphone doesn’t have a high gain antenna capable of tracking a fast-moving satellite.

Cubesats. Cubesats are great, and dozens of them have been launched. They have a decay date of about 3-4 years after launch at most. Typically they have a much shorter lifespan. That’s IF they deploy successfully. The thing about Cubesats is that they’re cheap. Some use small solar panels, others use batteries, and that greatly limits the transmit power available to the transceiver on board so that they typically only carry small beacons or data burst transmitters. Adding larger batteries or solar panels will increase the size of the vehicle to non-Cubesat sizes.

They will need hundreds of Cubesats just to build a “global” system. Then they will need hundreds more to replace the failed deployments and serve as spares for the cubesats that will only last a couple of years.
Then you have to “mesh” them together. Like the hopeful souls in /r/darknetplan[1] the organizers of this project don’t take seriously the fundamental problems of mesh networking, bandwidth restrictions, routing inefficiencies, and it is doubly bad with Outernet because all of their nodes are moving, and will have changing lines of sight.
Timelines. “Technical evaluation is already underway”. Okay. So you’re going to go from “technical evaluation” to “January 2015” date of first possible launch? As a follower of AMSAT, if you don’t already have a physical device that has been certified TODAY there is no way in hell you are getting on a schedule for 6 months from now. And they want to go from “first launch” to “system deployment” in another six months? That is actually insulting. They have no uplink infrastructure, no mesh plan, no radios, no system busses, no schedule.
Already achievable goals. “Free of Charge”, “no censorship”, and “global notification system”. All three of these things can be achieved today with terrestrial-based radio communications. And a dongle for a low-cost laptop or wifi-enabled hotspot capable of receiving terrestrial is a hell of a lot easier to design and distribute than a satellite network. Hell, you could build transmitting facilities, thousands of receivers, and a distribution network for a whole lot less than $12 billion. (But Cryptovariable, what about jamming? It is a hell of a lot easier to jam the comparatively minuscule signal coming from these satellites than it is a shortwave radio broadcast.)

They want to transmit data to handheld-devices using LEO satellites. That’s crazy. That is actually the craziest part of all of this. They show “mobile devices” as the potential receivers. Any handheld device will have to be custom built. An android phone or tablet isn’t going to have the antenna, radio, or software stack to do this. Are they going to build a multi-billion dollar network of satellites with no potential users and then hope that manufacturers will come up with compatible devices or are they going to develop it and then ask for another couple billion dollars to build the devices themselves? And then how will they fund the distribution of devices to end-users?
What they are proposing is like a crappy version of Iridium, except they don’t have a plan for any of the back-end stuff that makes Iridium work. And Iridium doesn’t work because the company, even with the charging out the ass of its customers, can’t stay out of bankruptcy unless the DoD bankrolls about a quarter of its bottom line. Oh and Iridium satellites are gargantuan compared to a Cubesat.

Better alternatives to this include:
One Way option A: Data transmission using leased space aboard already-existing communications satellites over Free-to-Air satellite receivers. You could lease the transponders, build a custom receiver with built in wireless LAN, and then you can write apps to access the data stored on the receiver, which could cache it over time, on recycled low end android devices, for much less than what they are asking for and it would accomplish the same thing.
One Way option B: Data transmission using a fleet of ships in international waters equipped with shortwave radio transmitters. If you really, really, want this to be web-like you could switch from voice to data and build low-cost receivers capable of caching the data and distribute them around the world. End users could connect their PCs or mobile devices to them and “browse” the data stored on them just like in option A.
Two Way option A: For non-realtime two-way, use a low power, low bandwidth protocol (like a more capable version of WSPR) to send messages back and forth over HF using the equipment from One Way option B that has “upgraded” for bi-directional communications.
Two Way option B (medium bandwidth): Use the $12 billion to buy one of the satellite internet service providers that is near bankruptcy, and upgrade the constellation to offer worldwide coverage.
Two Way option C (low bandwidth): Just copy what INMARSAT does, but with slightly less capable satellites and free or low-cost hardware.
I would go for “Two Way option B”. You could probably buy ViaSat and launch three or more ViaSat-1’s for about $12 billion, and then you could use regular subscribers to subsidize free users. Hell, ViaSat-1 only cost $400 million, you could start up your own company and launch enough of them to cover the world in 5mbps bi-directional for about $12 billion (maintaining the system is another story).

**Addendum 1:**There are two main reasons that cubesats are cheap. One is that they don’t have the high-gain, high-bandwidth radio bits that are heavy and expensive. The other is that they piggyback on already-planned multi-million dollar launches in unused “empty” space inside the payload shroud. They also don’t really get to pick their orbits. They are just kind of “pooped” out when the paying customer’s satellite is deployed and what their orbit is, it is.
Amateur groups and universities don’t really care about the orbit so long as it is overhead enough for long enough to get data from the cubesat. Then the batteries go kaput and it eventually falls back to earth.
A network of satellites like this would, one, require the heavy and expensive high-gain and high-bandwidth radio bits and two, the sheer volume of them means that there aren’t enough paying customers to piggyback on. They would need their own flights.
And you would need to launch them to put them into specific orbits so that there are always “x” number overhead at all times, with more coming overhead in predictable orbits. If you just send up a single shot with 100s of cubesats, all you’re going to get is a cloud of clustered cubesats orbiting the earth in a big blob.
That is the opposite of what the AMSAT/cubesat program is.

**Addendum 2:**Employees, or people going on about being employees, keep saying this is an LEO system. On the main page they say it will be a geostationary orbit. GEO orbits are, by definition, not LEO. GEO is 35,000 km away from LEO. It is odd that they interchange the terms.
And apparently this is going to be a Ku band system. A Ku band system is, putting it politely, very difficult to implement on a cubesat. There was a cubesat launched with a Ku transponder and I think it was one of the big ones (3U) and I think it got 9600 Kbps in LEO.
Ku band is impossible to implement on a handheld device. Tracphone sells a self-targeting Ku band setup. It weighs 30 lbs and costs $10,000. That’s what’s needed for bi-directional mobile Ku communication.
They’re also taking about testing open source DVB software/dongles and commercial free-to-air gear (my one way option A) and you don’t need 12 god damned billion dollars to do that.
I don’t think this system is going to use cubesats in LEO at all.


#2

Are you using an infographic–that was not created by anyone at Outernet–as the sole basis of your understanding of Outernet? Sorry we haven’t been able to respond to your incorrect assumptions; been busy building product. I hope to reply in more detail tomorrow or Thursday.

FYI: We aren’t spending $12,000,000,000.

By the way, you had a lot of good ideas, which we’ve been implementing for months. Are you the same user from the top of the reddit thread?


#3

I do not think this is a marketing scam. Because I not seen it being advertised on any of the main stream media companies or on any paid advertisements. :slight_smile:


#4

Apparently that guy is pissed about something… Either he is part of a company that feels threatened by all this, or he needs to go to bed and sleep for a few weeks…lol


#5

um. Dude seems pretty frickin’ well-informed, and he obviously put some time into writing this. I’d like to see a legitimate response to his objections.
My support for Outernet may be going on the reverse if I don’t . . .


#6

This is a very interesting thread, and one that deserves some serious thought and comment. I have no affiliation with Outernet, and in fact I only started reading the details of their plans this week, and I think that the comments that Arxos makes are very interesting and in many cases are broadly sound from a technical perspective. However, I also think - based on what I have read about Outernet - that he seems to have missed the point in a number of areas. My own thoughts, in response to the comments made by Arxos, are the following:

Well, maybe, and who knows. But surely that’s a risk for those providing funding to assess? My own view is that any project that gets ordinary, non-specialist people thinking about engineering and technology can’t be altogether a bad thing.

I don’t think that Outernet have ever claimed anything else. There has been an awful lot of media and press hype, however, with the impression being given that this would be a global, unregulated, broadband, WiFi, Internet-in-the-sky - which it isn’t.

Don’t write off one-way, broadcast data services by the way. I’m old enough to remember the introduction of the BBC’s “Ceefax” Teletext service in the mid-1970s. The difference between having no ‘on-line’ access to news and information and having something is really significant. What Outernet seems to be proposing is clearly not a real-time service. It’s a one-way “transmit-and-store-locally” service, which is quite a different thing.

Agreed. 100% true. But on the basis of the previous point, were Outernet to be implemented as a LEO system, this is far less of a problem. I don’t know what data rate could be broadcast to terrestrial receivers, but even if each territory only saw a few passes each day (say 20 minutes of coverage, per receiver, per day) then even a relatively low bitrate signal could transfer a sizeable amount of data. For example, supposing that 500 kbit/s of usable data could be achieved (and I fully acknowledge that designing the link budget to support such bit-rates with terrestrial receivers of a sensible size will be a challenge and will mean that the satellites could probably not be based on a standard cubesat bus, which would not provide enough power) then you could in principle move 600 Mbit of data to each receiver, each day. it seems to me that this is enough data to allow users to receive (over time, not on-demand) the daily news, information, documents, etc. that Outernet is aiming to broadcast.

If it is being suggested that this service will be receivable on a cellphone then I agree, that doesn’t make any sense at all. But from what I have seen, those claims seem to arise from the media hype not from Outernet. On the other hand, it is perfectly possible to imagine a small user terminal with a low gain whip antenna receiving the transmissions. Whether that works or not comes down to the link budget, and whether or not there is enough power available on the satellite to ensure that the received carrier-to-noise is high enough to permit the data to be received and demodulated. I’ve not seen any link budgets, but I’ve no doubt at all that viable links can be designed on paper. Whether or not such links can be supported in the real World by the available power on the satellite is, as I’ve already said, going to be a challenge. But if the satellite is not a cubesat then it may be possible (I would like to see some link budgets to be able to assess this further).

I would also note that - if the link budget can be made to work - then a low-gain, non-directional antenna doesn’t need to track the satellite. Because it is low gain it can “see” the whole sky, so tracking is not necessary,

Again, agreed. But two points need to be made here. First is that because of the non-real-time “transmit-and-store-locally” model, it is not necessary to have a constellation of hundreds of satellites so that every territory has one or more satellites always visible in the sky all the time. This is not a Teledesic or a Skybridge. It’s only necessary to have enough satellites so as to ensure the minimum number of passes per day per territory to support the daily data transmission requirements of the system.

Secondly, as I have mentioned above, I would not expect this to be implementable using standard cubesat technology. But that doesn’t mean that each satellite has to cost tens or hundreds of millions. Look at what Skybox Imaging (recently acquired by Google) has achieved. They have developed some impressive satellites for somewhere in the region of $2M to $5M each.

No they won’t. As I’ve already said, they will not need global, real-time coverage. Moreover, they will not need to mesh the satellites together either. Each satellite is essentially an independent, store-and-forward, data broadcaster. Once the dataset is loaded onto the satellite it can go on transmitting it, continuously, allowing each user to (over time, several passes, maybe even several days) to store their own local copy.

This one I agree with. I don’t see how a January 2015 launch date is achievable. Maybe a low-power technology demonstrator cubesat could be built and launched in a short time-scale, but I’m pretty sure that the larger satellites as mentioned above will take a while to design, build and launch. But what the heck? Haven’t we all hyped our projects to get a bit of attention? I would hope that, as the project develops, more realistic plans and estimates would be made.

Well, perhaps. But I don’t think that terrestrial-based radio gets around either the “digital divide” or the “state censorship” issues. A sizeable proportion of people in the World live outside the range of terrestrial infrastructure, and I don’t see that being built any time soon. Moreover, terrestrial infrastructure will always be in the control of the state on whose territory it is based. Outernet seems, to me, to be offering a possible solution to both these problems. Sure, it’s not the only way of doing things, but so what? It is an interesting approach, and satellites certainly have the advantage of supporting global ubiquitous coverage outside the direct reach of state control (except for the state under whose authority the satellites are operated - so best get that one right!).

This seems to me to completely misrepresent what Outernet are trying to achieve, for reasons explained above.

Isn’t this what Outernet have already implemented, by way of their test platform on GALAXY-19 and HOTBIRD-13? That said, I don’t see it as a viable, long-term solution, simply because the barriers to entry are too high (Ku-band dish, LNB, DVB receiver, etc.).

Interesting idea! A kind of “pirate radio” for data. Technically it would work I’m sure, but many states have implemented laws allowing them to board and shut down broadcasting transmitters on vessels, even in international waters. I would not personally want to be crewing the ship in the waters off of North Korea or China.

Well yes, maybe. But from what I have read, Outernet certainly doesn’t have $12bn to spend, and anyway, a two-way, global, real-time data constellation seems to be well outside the scope of what Outernet is trying to achieve.

Same comment as for previous point.

Agreed, absolutely. But see above as to why I don’t think that this project is likely to be based on cubesats.

The way that I interpret it is that the Ku-band GEO implementation is essentially a technology demonstrator. It’s a way of getting a service up-and-running very quickly. A kind of proof-of-concept. As I have mentioned above, however, I don’t think that a Ku-Band GEO implementation is viable long-term, because it is just too hard to access for non-technically qualified people. Moreover, in oppressive states which limit citizen access to news and information, access to and use of large dish antennas tends also to be strongly regulated - and a 75cm Ku-band dish is hard to hide!

For that reason, I think that - as a concept at least - a lower frequency (sub 1 GHz), LEO constellation, based on (relatively) cheap satellites (not cubesats) must be the way forward. Whether it can be made to work or not, and at a price that permits it to go ahead, frankly, I don’t know yet. But conceptually it is interesting and I’d want to see a lot more data before writing it off.

My view is that interesting technical proposals ought to be taken seriously, developed, enhanced and - if the technologies and the finances work out - implemented. This is especially true when the project is, as I understand Outernet to be, a not-for-profit, aiming to do something good for the World.

Neither do I (see above)! Glad to end on a point of agreement.


#7

Outernet is actually addressing this issue. The aim is to provide a significantly lower-cost, portable, all-in-one package necessary to receive Ku-band. The requirement to use actual satellite equipment does exist for the time being, but as far as I know, there is no plan to shut down Ku-band service at any point. Also keep in mind that multiple users may share the same rig using networking or Wi-Fi hotspots, or some other means to share the content, so that may reduce the cost of operating the equipment.

We’re also not without ideas on how to get these devices into the hands of those that cannot afford them, but I’d rather not talk about it until it’s completely worked out.

Plan to have receptions on cell phones directly does exist, although it’s not a primary target. Cube sats may use UHF transmission instead of Ku-band and a dongle for cell phones with UHF antenna (which either decodes the signal itself or provides a companion SDR application) is in early development.


#8

Glad to hear that. I agree that in principle the Ku GEO and LEO services could run in parallel. I’m sure you can offer more capacity on the GEO platform.

Good idea, but the Ku-band antenna is still going to be more “obvious” in use than a small antenna, so not sure how well that will work in regulated/opressive states.

Is there any public information about the cell-phone plans? I find it hard to believe that it could work with an unmodified phone, unless a dongle or external unit of some type is connected.

UHF from LEO is interesting, but as I mentioned above, I find it hard to imagine that you can achieve sensible data-rates from LEO using the power available on a standard cubesat - I’d love to see some link budgets!


#9

That’s what I said. It’s been said in random places, but nothing systematic. It’s just an idea we’re playing with, more than a concrete plan that’s already in motion. File it under “if things go well” category. :smile:

Yeah, well, it may turn out it doesn’t quite work for us, etc. There’s also been talk of a slightly larger cube sats that use cheaper components with a bit more kick, etc (not sure about dimensions and specs, since I’m not dealing with satellite development). I find that unknowns are what makes this exciting. Still, coming up with a cool solution is one thing, working solution is what we really want and prioritize.


#10

Ah yes. Sorry I misread your previous post!


#11

I USE Outernet daily. All I use is a data antenna, fast router, raspberry pi, ku dish, and an lnb. IT WORKS! This is more for information equality…not speed. HAM mesh transmission would work way better.

But this is ASSUREDLY NOT “Iridium without the backend.”

Must admit I’m beta testing.

Peace,

Dr. R


Outernet receiver build feedback
#12

You should create a video on how you put it together so others see how. :smile:


#13

That’s definitely on our todo list. The 60cm dish is on backorder from Winegard, which is what is holding this up. After I receive it, I’m giving all of the components to a non-technical friend of mine and have asked her to document the build process.


#15

You took an awful lot of time and effort to trash talk this project. It looks like you know what you’re talking about. The difference is these guys are doing something. Why don’t you create this better solution you describe. If you did, you might see why this “marketing scam” is an essential part of building a project of this scale in a capitalist society.
If you know how to create a network that connects people who can’t get other network access, then you should create it.


#16

Developing an Open source one-way communications might eventually help us at BuildTheEnterprise.org, though I’m not yet convinced that inter-/outernet access is that significant. It’ll not prevent you from starving, and you can’t call for help as it’s one-way only and it’s manipulatable as everything. (open source automated local danger/weather forecast systems might be more sensible and much easier to setup and maintain)

Revolutionizing access to space and thus making it all affordable might be the easier way to achieve the same - but it’s not certain. Thus it’s good we follow all somewhat-promising ideas we have.

Wishing the comrades from Outernet some good open source development rushes. Don’t give up your visions and yet at least take action to steer the ship should the direction turn out misleading.


#17

I could not have replied to the OP better myself, though I disagree on some of the cubesat comments. As well as limiting Ku-band to demonstration-only. But all in all, very much spot on!


#19

Hello.

I do sattcomm for the California Office of Emergency Services.
I tend to an 80 endpoint Ku network of fixed and transportable VSAT terminals using an airtime provider over G-18. Standard DVB-RCS (TDMA) stuff.
We also field a fleet of mobile (not handheld) terminals on the LightSquared system. (L-Band)

I’m also working (non-paid) with a couple of people outside state government on the insertion of Hastily Formed Networks in Humanitarian Assistance contexts. Think post-Katrina, Banda Aceh, etc. Needless to say, the idea of inserting Public Information and Alert & Warning into otherwise unserved areas would be complmentary to HFN/HA effort.

Very exciting.

All this to get to my question. Does the Lantern (Pillar?) receive on Ku? If so, does the typical use case assume an external antenna? Is it a bandwidth versus antenna gain tradeoff?

Thanks!


#20

It will have a built-in DVB-S capable tuner, but you’ll need to provide LNB and dish, and I also believe it would need external power supply as well.


#21

What kind of throughput do you achieve over LightSquared? And how much does it cost per MB?

Indeed. What is your current concept of operations?

Lantern includes the functionality of Pillar. The latter is able to receive only over Ku-band, and specifically over DVB-S/S2 (currently it’s all S2). Lantern, when connected to an external DTH dish, can receive data, but is also able to receive lower bitrates over L-band through its internal antenna.

What is the cheapest VSAT terminal that you have come across?


#22

@Seasalt i know this is an old topic. But anyway outernet isnt a marketing scam like you put it…its a very unique idea that will benefit many people… Its an idea that will deliever knowledge to many remote parts of the world…