Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Review of Outernet's Satellite Reciever

I recently came across mention of the Outernet project. They market themselves as a simple, low cost, receive only packet radio receiver. It seemed like an interesting enough project and at $99 for a preprogrammed board/all the hardware I'd need I figured why not.


Setting it up was relatively simple, just hook up the CHIP, battery, LNA, and panel antenna as we were good to go. After about a couple minutes of the board starting up you'll see an open Wifi network called "Outernet". Connect in, visit "" and enter "outernet:outernet" for the login (case matters on the username).

The Interface

You'll then be presented with the main interface. Click the circle in the upper left corner to get a listing of the "apps" installed. It's pretty spartan, but then again that's what the project is. Click on the "Tuner" app, it should look like this:

In the drop down box on the Satellite tab, make sure the proper satellite/location is chosen, otherwise you simply won't ever get a lock. Once you chose the proper satellite, and double checked to make sure everything is hooked up properly, you can start pointing the panel at the satellite. I used the satellite tracking site to help me roughly aim the panel. It doesn't have to be exact. I used the "SNR" value on the Status tab to help me aim. Once I got a consistent reading above 3.0dB I knew it would be sufficient. Cloudy days give me about 5-7 and clear ones give me 7-10dB. If you are around 1-2dB or less, something is wrong.
I ended up mounting my panel to an old tripod so I wouldn't have to hold it. Not pretty or rugged, but works for the time being:
I also configured the board settings to connect to my home network as a client versus setting up its own hotspot. You can do this using the "Network" app from the interface.

So everything is set up, now I have data downloading. That was fun. Probably not $99 fun, but I got some new hardware out of it and I got to say I did something with satellites. Personally, it was just barely worth the $99.

While the kit is received only, Outernet does allow people to submit files to be included (up to 10KB, and moderated) in the transmission.

Accurate Expectations:

If you are interested in getting an Outernet setup, please make sure you have the proper expectations. Here is what you get practically from buying and setting one up yourself:

  • Text only daily news from several sources
  • 2-day old fancy weather data that looks really pretty
  • APRS messages (mostly useless)
  • Offline text-only Wikipedia
This is not a replacement for the Internet, no matter what ignorant media people tell you, this is really not a replacement for anything at all. The only possible use case I can really think of is for someone in the middle of nowhere wanting some news/Wikipedia articles to read. The Outernet project is definitely not solving any average person's problems.

It DOES however provide the following:
  • CHIP board, Low Noise Amplifier, Panel Antenna, Battery pack, and aluminum cased RTLSDR
  • Decent first introduction to microwave satellites
  • A distraction
  • A cute idea
Would I buy this again? Not likely
Would I recommend this? Meh

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