Raising the Standard.

Global Wi-Fi: The Outernet Initiative

Coming to a planet near you?

Launched within the past 48 hours, Outernet.is is an attempt to grant the world access to information it deserves.  The project is “wi-fi for the world from outer space: Unrestricted, globally accessible, broadcast data.”  In the simplest of terms, the project seeks to provide the world with access to information and communication by creating a globally-accessible network through the use of hundreds of satellites in low orbit constellations.

According to the (admittedly tight-lipped) project site, the team is comprised of five main members with different areas of expertise, most notably including Ed Birrane, a member of the applied physics lab at John Hopkins specializing in interstellar networking, and Aaron Rogers, the world’s leading researcher in nanosatellite design and mission engineering.

As ethereal as the project is at this point, the implications of its success are huge.  Operating as a non-profit organization, the .org constellation would provide local and international news, crop prices and educational programming such as Khan Academy and Teachers without Borders to otherwise remote regions of the globe.  Additionally, the network access would provide a fallback for local cell or landline networks and greatly improve disaster relief coordination across borders and in remote locations.

With that in mind, the overall outlook for the project is uncertain. Currently, Outernet is seeking donations via Bitcoin, which is a private, online currency. Bitcoin’s volatility could cripple the Outernet — its success or failure is partially linked to that of an unpredictable crypto-currency. Furthermore, it is improbable, given Outernet’s similarity to Google’s Project Loon, that the Californian technology behemoth would simply overlook the project. It is possible that Google will buy up the project and its team, then consolidate it into its Loon initiative. Considering the projected cost of Outernet, an offer from a communication and tech giant with capital investment potential would be a hard deal to turn down.

Given the high cost of the venture, the United States’s regulatory vendetta against online start-ups and stiff competition from established labs like Google, the future does not bode well for the Outernet. Nonetheless, it will be an incredible moment when a global information network is realized. One hopes that initial setbacks will, as is so often the case in the wilds of tech innovation, merely fuel future discoveries.

—Chris Donaldson is a senior studying computer science and physics

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