Introducing Outernet: Free Wi-Fi beamed to everywhere on earth from space

A New York-based team has suggested creating a network of free Wi-Fi beamed to earth from tiny satellites placed in low earth orbit.

The planned network, which the organisation has dubbed the "Outernet," would allow access to certain websites for free, from anywhere in the world. The websites chosen for the honour so far are Wikipedia, free learning sites the Khan Academy, Coursera, open-source maps site Open Streetmap, open-source operating system Ubuntu, and blockchains for the cryptocurrency Bitcoin.

The project was founded and is currently led by Syed Karim, a University of Illinois graduate currently working for Digital News Ventures, part of the Media Developement Fund, which makes seed investments in news and information start-ups.

The organisation believes the decentralised Outernet would improve access to information for those currently left out of the information revolution.

"Imagine 4-billion additional participants in the global marketplace of ideas. Imagine the avalanche of creativity, innovation, and invention. Imagine universal access to information, regardless of income, infrastructure, or geography," the Outernet team writes on its website.

The free Wi-Fi broadcasts would be bounced to earth from tiny satellites known as cubesats – 10cm cuboid satellites that have become the standard payload for low-cost missions. The team hopes that the satellites will be ferried into space on the back of International Space Station resupply missions.

"Each satellite receives data streams from a network of ground stations and transmits that data in a continuous loop until new content is received," the team says on its website.

"In order to serve the widest possible global audience, the entire constellation utilises UDP-based multicasting over Wi-Fi. Although still not common, Wi-Fi multicasting is a proven technology, especially when the data requires only one hop to reach the recipient."

In fact, Cisco Systems' StadiumVision Mobile platform is an example of Wi-Fi multicasting in action.

The Outernet project is also set to an ambitious timeline. The team believe that development of prototype satellites could be underway by June 2014, with testing beginning in September. The final deployment of the hundreds of cubesat satellites is hoped to begin by June 2015.

The organisation is not crowd-funding, but instead accepting tax-deductable donations on its website. It is also accepting donations in bitcoin and, slightly bizarrely, dogecoin.

According to the team, the project should "reduce... reliance on costly Internet data plans in places where monthly fees are too expensive for average citizens," as well as bypassing "censorship of the Internet in countries that restrict access to independent media."