Balloons Being Used To Help Restore Communications To Puerto Rico


Alphabet X's Project Loon - a former Google enterprise - recently received an emergency license from the FCC to equip the island with mobile data via high-altitude weather balloons.

It aims to temporarily re-establish Puerto Rico's cellular network - where 83 per cent of cell sites were still out of service Friday, according to FCC figures.

An experimental product from the laboratory formerly known as Google X, run by parent company Alphabet, Project Loon got an experimental license to help provide emergency cell service in the USA territory, FCC chairman Ajit Pai said Saturday.

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Separately, the FCC last week said it would let carriers use up to $77 million from the Universal Service Fund to restore service in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. "All counties in Puerto Rico, except Bayamon, Catano, Carolina, Guaynabo, San Juan, and Toa Baja, have greater than 75 percent of their cell sites out of service", the FCC said on Sunday US time. "It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services", Pai said in statement.

Project Loon, part of Google's original "moonshot" efforts, was created to bring connectivity to remote parts of the world and areas struggling with the aftermath of a natural disaster. "[Project Loon] could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information", Pai said.

Project Loon uses high-speed internet transmitted up to the nearest balloon a telecommunications partner on the ground, relayed across the balloon network, and then back down to users on the ground. The huge balloons are sent 12 miles from Earth into the stratosphere.

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Despite the best efforts of cell companies, the vast majority of Puerto Rico is offline. "We've been making solid progress on this next step".

Project Loon's wireless network also needs the cooperation of the wireless carriers on the island to work, because those calls still need the cellular network to function to provide connections to the wider telephone network. "Project Loon is one such approach".

There were some initial doubts that Google could keep the balloons afloat for long periods of time, but the company has made consistent, notable strides on that front - past year indicating they'd kept balloons aloft for as long as six months.

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