Free WiFi for Everyone!

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February 25, 2014

Free WiFi for everybody, it's on me! Actually, if the Media Development Investment Fund (MDIF) has its way, it's on them. According to the New York-based company, there are more computing devices on the planet than there are humans, and only 60% of those have access to the Internet.

Most third-world countries simply don't have the infrastructure to support WiFi or even cellular capabilities. In others, the Internet is highly censored and restricts certain information from being accessed (looking at you North Korea, China, and the UK).

But what if all that could be changed, and we could get unrestricted WiFi connections anywhere in the world, including the middle of the ocean or the Sahara? The MDIF believes it can do so by utilizing hundreds of tiny Cube Sat satellites orbiting the planet at any given point along with datacasting technology. Datacasting broadcasts data over wide areas through the use of radio waves. Those digital waves (as well as analog and radio) are normally broadcasted by television stations and are capable of carrying supplemental information piggybacked on the signal itself. The satellites could utilize those signals and incorporate them into a network, known as the "Outernet," that can be accessed anywhere.

Once the satellites are launched into low-earth orbit, they will be dispersed all around the globe where they will access the radio waves from ground-based stations and then transmit that data in a continuous loop until new content is received. The great thing about the satellite constellation is that it would use globally accepted standard protocols, including DVB, Digital Radio Mondiale, and UDP-based WiFi Multicasting, which would allow anyone (with any smart device) from any country to gain access to those signals.

So, what will that network provide besides access to free WiFi? MDIF would include streaming news and information (both international and local), applications and content (including Ubuntu, OpenStreetMap, and Wikipedia), educational courseware, and emergency communications.

Of course, streaming entertainment media would also be a possibility. That access could prove invaluable for those that found themselves in distress, such as recent castaway Jose Salvador Alvarenga, who became adrift at sea for more than a year after setting out on a simple fishing excursion. Had he had a smartphone and access to a WiFi signal, he could have simply called, texted, or emailed for help. The same could be said for the hundreds that become lost or stranded every year in remote locations such as deserts or mountainous areas. Not only could they call for help, but they could also have instant information on first aid.

The MDIF is currently looking for funding to develop its Cube Sat satellite and utilization of the datacast signals. If all goes well, the next step will be to test the satellite technology on the International Space Station, after which the satellites will be deployed as soon as early 2015.

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