Project Loon service approved to serve recovering Puerto Rico

President Donald Trump tosses rolls of paper towels to people at a hurricane relief distribution center at Calvary Chapel in San Juan Puerto Rico
Cell service is out in 83 percent of Puerto Rico. Could these Google balloons fix it?
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09 Octubre, 2017

More than 90 percent of people on the island of Puerto Rico don't have power, and more than 80 percent don't have access to wireless cell service, according to the most recent advisories from FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission.

Alphabet, which announced its Project Loon in 2013 to use solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to provide internet service in remote regions, said in an FCC filing it was working to "support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability" in Puerto Rico.

"It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services", said Pai in a statement.

"The Tesla team has done this for many smaller islands around the world, but there is no scalability limit, so it can be done for Puerto Rico too", Musk said.

The island has 3.5 million people, who are displaced and relying on emergency services.

A Project Loon balloon.

The project works by ground stations connecting to the local internet infrastructure and beaming signals to the balloons.

Although the company has been given rapid approval by the FCC to begin operating, it still has hurdles to overcome.

In Puerto Rico, however, X essentially had to start at square one. "The Hurricane Recovery Task Force will allow us to do just that", Pai also said. Those will link to balloons flying nearly 13 miles above the Earth, from which cell service will be broadcast down to the islands. They need to connect to a telecommunications system on the ground.

Loon's networks of balloons appeared to work well earlier this year when parts of Peru suffered severe flooding.

Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico's secretary of agriculture, told USA Today that the hurricane was the most devastating the territory had ever witnessed.

Two weeks after the storm struck, killing 34 people, hospitals and hundreds of thousands of residents are still struggling without electricity and communications, relying on generators if they are lucky. Its main purpose is to provide mobile connectivity to disaster and rural areas through weather balloons with fitted with cell radios. Alphabet says it is developing temporary software fixes over the air for some devices, such as LG, Samsung and Apple.

-Jack Nicas contributed to this article.


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