Google’s Project Loon Floats Over Puerto Rico

Christian Cutler October 09, 2017
Google’s Project Loon Floats Over Puerto Rico

The US Federal Communications Commission announced that it has given Alphabet Inc’s Google the green light for the company’s application to provide emergency cellular service to Puerto Rico via balloons.

Google said that Project Loon balloons will be providing coverage to Puerto Rico and parts of the Virgin Islands until April 4 next year. According to the plan, the helium balloons will provide LTE cellular reception to local governments and residents, and it will allow them to contact family and friends. If no problem is met upon the execution of the plan, it will also give them the power to reestablish communication with the outside world, as well as be updated with relief operations.

Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, and it has since struggled to communicate to the outside world. The FCC said last week that more than 80 percent of cell sites were still out of service. Meanwhile, wireless communications companies have been setting up and deploying temporary sites.

“It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services,” said Ajit Pai, who is the FCC chairman. Pai has previously announced that he was forming a Hurricane Recovery Task Force to address the challenges looming large in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

In a separate statement, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello took to Twitter the news of his “great initial conversation with Elon Musk.

“Teams are now talking, exploring opportunities. Next step soon to follow,” tweeted Rossello.

Tesla Inc said it would send more battery installers to Puerto Rico as an effort to help restore power after Hurricane Maria took down all power on the island more than a couple of weeks ago.

As for Google, this will not be the first instance that it deployed its floating LTE providers in an effort to assist. The balloons previously gave assistance to Peruvians after some high and extreme floods knocked down power supplies. The Peru disaster was considered simpler since the tech giant was already hand in hand with a local telecommunication provider while performing disaster relief efforts. The partnership made the structure for obtaining signals to and from the balloons easy to put in place. There have also been relief initiatives in France, Brazil, New Zealand, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka.

Meanwhile, for the Puerto Rico disaster, there is virtually nothing in place. Puerto Rico’s telecommunication companies may not be able to officially collaborate with Google. Anyhow, Google seems to make connectivity possible if it can find a way to do it.

“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. To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs to be integrated with a telco partner’s work—the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand,” said Alphabet’s X “innovation lab,” in which the Project Loon was hatched.

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Christian Cutler


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