Access to information that’s out of this world
The idea of delivering information via the internet to every person on the planet is has become a major priority for some of the biggest tech firms.
One idea is the Outernet. Neil and Catherine discuss this new system that aims to provide a library of knowledge for poor and remote communities – beamed down to Earth via satellite.
Hello and welcome to 6 Minute English. I’m Neil…
…and I’m Catherine. Hello.
Hello, Catherine! Now, how was your holiday?
My holiday was lovely, Neil. I was staying on a beautiful island. It was very remote and there was actually no internet access. So, I did feel quite cut off actually.
And cut off means isolated. How did you survive, Catherine?
Well, it wasn’t easy. But I had my e-reader – that’s an electronic device which lets you store and read lots of books from the internet. And I read a lot of Harry Potter…
Harry Potter? I know you like wizards, Catherine, but shouldn’t you have downloaded some classic literature? How about Shakespeare’s The Tempest? That’s got a wizard in it too.
Well, yes indeed. But Shakespeare on the beach isn’t quite right for me, Neil.
Right. Well, today we’re talking about how the poorer and more remote – or distant – parts of the world can get access to learning.
That’s right. But before we start, Neil, I believe you have a quiz question for us.
Yes, I do. I would like to know what the proportion of the world’s population that still has no internet access is. Is it…
a) a quarter?
or c) two thirds?
I’m going to go for c) two thirds.
Well, we’ll find out if you’re right or wrong later on in the programme. So Catherine, how can these people get connected to the internet and start surfing?
By using the Outernet.
The Outer what?
The Outernet. That’s the idea of entrepreneur Syed Karim and its goal is to give people in unconnected communities access to information without having to use expensive mobile phones or two-way satellite networks.
I see. And an entrepreneur, by the way, is a person who makes money by starting their own business that typically involves some financial risk.
Yes, I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of an entrepreneur.
Well, you’ll need money and ideas, Catherine. Have you got either of those?
I’ve got ideas.
Right. OK. I get it.
So, can you tell us how the Outernet works, Neil?
Yes, I can. The Outernet uses existing communications satellites to store and broadcast data – broadcast means to send out signals or programmes. Special equipment on the ground picks up – or receives – the data, and this can be copied to phones and computers.
But the Outernet broadcasts data offline – which means it’s not connected to the Internet. There’s no communication with the internet for user – so, no emails, no chat forums. And that can be a big drawback – or disadvantage.
Yes. The Outernet doesn’t provide two-way communication. But let’s hear Syed Karim discussing why one-way access has some advantages. And see if you can spot another word meaning ‘two-way’.
Syed Karim, business entrepreneur
Anything that is related to bi-directional communications, the internet, to be able to provide that to the entire world, those are billion dollar projects, multi-billion dollar projects with huge time horizons and enormous complexity. And, you know, our solution that we are offering is instantaneous, I mean, it exists right now.
Did you get it? Another way of saying two-way is bi-directional. So what are the advantages of one-way communication, Catherine?
It’s significantly cheaper. Bi-directional communications are multi-billion dollar projects. But the Outernet allows poorer communities to benefit from access to information.
Yes, it does. And the other big problem is the time it would take to establish two-way access. Syed says these projects have huge time horizons – and this means the length of time it takes to complete a project – they’re huge, so very big.
But the Outernet is already providing access to some of the world’s most valuable knowledge.
That’s right. The project aims to create a library of information taken from websites including Wikipedia and Project Gutenberg, which is a collection of copyright-free e-books. Copyright-free means the right to use material without paying any fees.
That sounds good. But let’s go back to the internet and hear from a BBC reporter talking about another project which aims to get people connected.
Google for example is working on Project Loon, a network of high-altitude helium balloons, which will boost Internet connections across much wider areas beyond coverage from conventional masts.
It’s called Project Loon – meaning crazy – because Google thought it was such a crazy idea, and loon sounds like balloon!
Yeah. The idea is that users will connect to the balloon network – or group of interconnected balloons – using an antenna attached to their building. The signal travels through the balloon network from balloon to balloon, and then to a station on the ground that’s connected to the Internet.
The balloons will boost – or increase – the number of people who will be able to access the Internet.
Yes, it will. And that’s because there will be lots of them – compared to the number of masts – or tall metal towers that send and receive signals – that are currently used.
OK, let’s have the answer to the quiz question I asked: What proportion of the world’s population still has no internet access? Is it … a) a quarter? b) half? or c) two thirds?
And I said c) two thirds.
And you were right! The answer is two thirds. Well done, Catherine.
Now just time to listen to today’s words once again. Catherine.
OK. We heard:
Well, that’s the end of today’s 6 Minute English. I hope you enjoyed connecting with us today! Please join us again soon.
Vocabulary and definitions
e-reader – an electronic device which you can store and read books from the internet
remote – a long way from towns and cities
entrepreneur – a person who makes money by starting their own business that typically involves some financial risk
broadcast – send out electronic signals or programmes
picks up – recieves
drawback – disadvantage
bi-directional – two-way / going in both directions
one-way – going in one direction
time horizons – the length of time it takes to complete something
copyright-free – the right to use other people’s material or work without paying any fees
balloon network – group of interconnected balloons
boost – increase
masts – tall metal towers that send and receive signals
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