Published: Wed, October 11, 2017
Finance | By Loren Pratt

Project Loon service approved to serve recovering Puerto Rico

Project Loon service approved to serve recovering Puerto Rico

Alphabet's application for Project Loon deployment in Puerto Rico included letters from eight wireless carriers providing service on the island to let Project Loon use their frequencies.

"More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services", FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

The FCC approval is a step in the right direction, but there are more steps that need to be taken fast if Project Loon really wants to help.

Project Loon balloons travel approximately 20 km above the Earth's surface in the stratosphere, well above airplanes, wildlife, and weather events.

In the case of Puerto Rico, AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile handsets should be able to operate on the frequencies covered by the experimental license, according to people familiar with the matter.

While Hurricanes Maria and Irma have left Puerto Rico nearly entirely without cell coverage, help may be on the way in the form of 30 balloons.

The FCC's daily status report also shows significant wireline, TV and radio outages remain in both United States territories.


Almost 82 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico and 57 percent in the US Virgin Islands are out of service, the FCC said in its daily damage report yesterday.

"22 (same as yesterday ) out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100 percent of their cell sites out of service". The 83% of cell towers are still down in Puerto Rico, and the groundwork hasn't been put in place.

The Loon project has already been hailed successful for bringing cell coverage to Peru during the country's flooding last spring.

If successful, the project's balloons would deliver much-needed communications and online connectivity to Puerto Rico, as the FCC issues an "experimental license" to the company for the launch.

It worked during the spring floods in Peru, Google says, providing enough data for 30 million WhatsApp messages and a couple million emails for tens of thousands of people. "Terrestrial communications infrastructure was severely impacted in many communities, leaving people unable to communicate".

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.

"When a wind pattern couldn't be found to keep the balloon over land, our algorithms picked the next best option, sending the balloon drifting out over the Pacific Ocean to pick up easterly winds that could help it sail back into position".

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