The Outernet Ku-Band LoRa Data Service

As mentioned in our previous post about the Outernet LoRa chat application, Outernet is currently holding a 33% off sale on their 'Dreamcatcher' satellite data receiver. To get the discount use the coupon "33%OFFJULY4SALE" on their store. The sale lasts until Midnight Central Time on Wednesday 4 July. The code is valid site wide, so applies to the moRFeus product as well.

In this post we'll highlight the Outernet data service which can be received in the Continental USA with the Dreamcatcher 3 hardware.

Outernet is a free download only satellite based information service that aims to be a sort of 'library in the sky'. Their aim to to have satellites constantly broadcasting down weather, news, books, radio, web pages, and files to everyone in the world. As it's satellite based, the service is censorship resistant, and useful for remote/marine areas without or with slow/capped internet access.

Currently the Outernet data service is considered to be beta, and is only available for those in the Continental United States.

The New Outernet Data Service

Originally a few years ago Outernet started with a 12 GHz DVB-S satellite service that gave 1GB of content a day, but that service required a large dish antenna which severely hampered user adoption. Their second attempt was with an L-band service that only needed a small patch antenna. This service used RTL-SDR dongles as the receiver, so it was very cheap to set up. Unfortunately the L-band service had a very slow data rates (less than 20MB of content a day), and leasing an L-band transmitter on a satellite proved to be far too expensive for Outernet to continue with. Both these services have now been discontinued.

Outernet 3.0 aims to fix their previous issues by giving us a service that provides over 300MB of data a day, with a relatively cheap receiver, computer and antenna combination that is small and easy to set up. The new receiver uses a standard Ku-Band LNB as the antenna, which is very cheaply available as they are often used for satellite TV reception. The receiver is called 'Dreamcatcher 3', and is a custom PCB containing a hardware receiver (non-SDR based) with a LoRa decoder, as well as an embedded ARM computer capable of running Linux.

LoRa is an RF protocol that is most often associated with small Internet of Things (IoT) devices, but Outernet have chosen it as their satellite protocol for Outernet 3.0 because it is very tolerant to interference. In Outernet 3.0 the LNB is pointed directly at the satellite without any directive satellite dish, meaning that interference from other satellites can be a problem. But LoRa solves that problem by being tolerant to interference.

The Data Service

Currently, Dreamcatcher 3 users are receiving data such as hundreds of daily news articles, global weather information and the top 100 most searched Wikipedia articles of the day. A new satellite radio broadcast service is also being tested (kind of similar to Sirius XM, but only one channel at the moment). Compared to the older L-band Outernet service, the larger data rates allow for a lot more data and thus articles to come down.

Like previous iterations, the Dreamcatcher 3 board runs remotely on a WiFi connection. You then connect to the Dreamcatcher 'Skylark' web interface via a PC or mobile browser. On this web interface you can browse all your downloaded files. The user guide is a good read for understanding the set up procedure. 

Some screenshots of example received data are shown below.

skylark3
skylark2
skylark_1

Conclusion

Outernet have been working hard to perfect their service over the years, and the current offering is the best compromise between ease of use and data rates that we've seen so far. Unfortunately the service is only available in the Continental USA at the moment, but we're looking forward to future expansion. 

Currently we'd only recommend purchasing the Dreamcatcher 3 receiver for the Outernet data service if you understand that the service is in beta, requires a little bit of technical know-how, and like previous Outernet iterations is subject to possible change. Support is only available via their forums.

We can see the service being popular with those who live and work in remote areas without or with expensive internet. Censorship resistance is also another big plus, but satellites would need to be rented for these areas first.

There are also more creative uses. 'Unplugged' getaways are becoming popular in the modern world. Perhaps you want an internet free holiday, but don't want to miss out on important breaking news and weather updates for safety. In the future Outernet could also be used for Bitcoin or other Cryptocurrency blockchain transmission. In past Outernet iterations it was also possible to send a tweet that would be re-transmitted by Outernet. A similar messaging service could be used to control remote devices.

3 comments

  1. DB gain

    This effort seems perfectly suited to censorship rather than as a means to bypass it, and is already pushing anti Trump sentiment. It is, however, technically interesting, despite the fact most villagers in 3rd world nations will not have easy access to receivers.

Post a comment

You may use the following HTML:
<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.