Alphabet Gets Approval for Giant Balloons to Restore Puerto Rico's Wireless Service


Google parent company Alphabet will use large balloons to bring cellular service to Puerto Rico, in an effort to help reconnect the country after the damage brought by Hurricane Maria.

According to Wired, the company's "Project Loon" initiative will help replace thousands of cellular data towers that were knocked out of service on the Caribbean island during the recent hurricane.

In Puerto Rico, Project Loon will use land mobile radio spectrum in the 900 MHz band borrowed from mobile carriers now operating within the USA territory. Project Loon seeks to restore wireless internet in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Just as Chairman Ajit Pai of FCC said, innovative plans are needed to restore connectivity to the island.

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, 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. Loon will provide Puerto Ricans with access to cell service even if the cell sites are not yet restored. Now that the experimental license has been approved, it will attempt to initiate service in Puerto Rico.

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Project Loon's network of high-altitude balloons is meant to beam signals down from more than 12 miles above the earth as a way of connecting remote and rural residents.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk talked Friday with Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rosselló about assisting in fix of the island's power grid with solar-powered batteries. We've been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who's been lending a hand.

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.

Google began testing Project Loon - which launches transmitters under high-altitude balloons to provide large rural areas with low-priced broadband - in February previous year in Sri Lanka after reaching a spectrum deal with the government there. Google calls it "Project Loon" and has been running global trials in areas with challenging geographies and limited fiber networks. They were among several tech companies proposing disaster response ideas, most aimed at getting phone and internet service up and running.