Google got permission to float its internet-beaming balloons over Puerto Rico

Iris Irizarry and Evelyn Andujar try to get cell phone reception in the wake of Maria on Oct. 4 2017 in Utuado Puerto Rico

Google gets go-ahead to restore cell phone service in Puerto Rico with its balloons

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave Alphabet's Moonshot Factory approval to kick-start so-called Project Loon, which will aim to provide emergency cell services in the United States territory.

With 90% of Puerto Rico without cell coverage, the Loon project balloons would act as replacements for the cell towers that were knocked over by the storm. Part of Google owner Alphabet's efforts to grow its user base by bringing connectivity to regions now disconnected and originally developed for rural regions, Project Loon involves the use of weather balloons to float mesh networking devices above the region to be connected.

"All the cities of Puerto Rico, with the exception of Bayamón, Carolina, Guaynabo, San Juan and Toa Baja, have more than 75% of their cellular antennas out of service", the report said.

"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".

One of the most novel attempts to provide a helping hand is coming from Project Loon, a sister company of Google, who want to launch a series of balloons to restore communications to the island.

But it's worth a try if there's any chance it can help the island's 3.5 million people connect with friends and loved ones. Loon will provide Puerto Ricans with access to cell service even if the cell sites are not yet restored.

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. That's slightly smaller than the 3500-square-mile area of Puerto Rico. Its main goal is to provide mobile connectivity to disaster and rural areas through weather balloons with fitted with cell radios. From there, they must work with an on-the-ground telecommunications system. Alphabet says it is developing temporary software fixes over the air for some devices, such as LG, Samsung and Apple.

The balloons will float 20 kilometers above the earth, then relay communications between the ground stations of Alphabet, which would be connected to a local telecoms partner's network in the two areas, and the users' handsets.

We had also already integrated balloon powered internet into Telefonica's network which meant that they could serve their customers from our balloons.

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