Published: Tue, October 10, 2017
Sci-tech | By Carrie Guzman

Balloons Being Used To Help Restore Communications To Puerto Rico

Balloons Being Used To Help Restore Communications To Puerto Rico

Libby Leahy, a spokesperson for Google X - the laboratory that oversees Project Loon - said the next step will be to find a wireless carrier to serve as its partner. The Loon team has reportedly secured spectrum rights from wireless networks operating in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands good for at least six months.

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.

The FCC announcement came from Matthew Berry, chief of staff to the agency's chairman, Ajit Pai, on Twitter.

One of Alphabet's moonshot projects might help people in Puerto Rico regain LTE connectivity in their phones.

Project Loon, owned by Google, is the launch of stratospheric balloons that carry internet connection to people in rural areas and in remote places.

Just last week, the Loon team said it was looking into helping Puerto Rico, still devastated by Hurricane Maria, regain connectivity. All Puerto Rican counties, with the exception of Catano, Bayamon, Carolina, San Juan, Toa Baja and Guaynabo have more than 75% of their cell sites offline, said the FCC Sunday afternoon. Thanks to the Federal Aviation Administration, who recently extended our launch hours in Puerto Rico, we were able to increase our balloon launch rate by 40%.

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Reuters/Stephen LamA Google Project Loon internet balloon is seen at the Google I/O 2016 developers conference in Mountain View, California.

It gave Google parent company Alphabet the go-ahead Friday to provide Wi-Fi and cell phone service via balloons.

The private companies have stepped up to the plate in Puerto Rico as the Trump administration faces continued criticism for its slow response to the disaster. In the latter country, Project Loon was already testing with a local carrier before the nation encountered heavy flooding. In a filing, Loon notes that an OTA might be needed to allow Band 8 operation, with devices from Samsung, Apple, LG, and others cited as capable of being updated to support the upcoming LTE service.

Alphabet will coordinate with networks operating in the British Virgin Islands so that interference is minimized.

Project Loon works by relaying a signal beamed from a telecom partner on the ground through its network of balloons floating around 65,000 feet in the air, and then sending that signal down to people with cellphones.

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