Google Brings Cellular Service to Puerto Rico Using Balloons


The US Federal Communications Commission announced its decision on Friday evening, one of a number of ways in which tech companies are helping rebuild services.

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"More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services", said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. In a report issued yesterday, the FCC revealed that 83 percent of cell towers on the island are still down, with the US Virgin Islands in a similar state.

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Separately, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Twitter that he had a "great initial conversation" with Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc. Alphabet's X division works with existing telecommunication carries in an area with Loon and that existing carrier's service gets relayed across the balloons and directly to the LTE devices in the hands of users on the ground. Teams are now talking; exploring opportunities. At the time of writing, it is uncertain how much of Puerto Rico will be covered, which areas of the Virgin Islands will be covered, or how many balloons Google will deploy. The project is now under the domain of Alphabet. This initiative would effectively bring internet connectivity to rural regions of the world through the use of hot air balloons.

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In late September, Tesla said it was sending hundreds of batteries that can store power generated by solar panels to Puerto Rico to provide emergency help in the wake of Hurricane Maria. It had partnered with a telecomm company and was testing balloons. As most of the smartphones are not capable of transcoding Band 8 LTE signals, the OEMs are necessarily required to push an OTA update for every smartphone in Puerto Rico. The company deployed balloons to Peru earlier this year after flooding destroyed homes and displaced thousands of people in that country. Here's part of X's official statement: "We're grateful for the support of the FCC and the Puerto Rican authorities as we work hard to see if it's possible to use Loon balloons to bring emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need".