Google to Provide Emergency Cell Service to Puerto Rico Via Balloons

It aims to temporarily re-establish Puerto Rico's cellular network - where 83 per cent of cell sites were still out of service Friday, according to FCC figures. The license extends from October 6th until April 4th, 2018, and it was granted to Ben Wojtowicz, a software engineer and member of Alphabet's X lab who works on Project Loon. She added that "we've been making solid progress" on that next step.

With Puerto Rico still reeling from Hurricane Maria, the tech community continues to find ways to help. It last deployed the balloons to provide emergency phone service in Peru after a flood displaced thousands of people in March. However, Loon had already been testing with Telefonica in Peru, which sped up the process.

To help communications the FCC as authorized the use of Project Loon over the territory. As most of the smartphones are not capable of transcoding Band 8 LTE signals, the OEMs are necessarily required to push an OTA update for every smartphone in Puerto Rico.

Mr. Pai urged wireless carriers to cooperate with Project Loon "to maximize this effort's chances of success".

The project was initially announced in 2013, intending to use balloons at high altitudes - and powered by the sun - to get cell service and internet capabilities into remote areas.

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Loon was developed at X, Alphabet's innovation lab. Alphabet also is the parent of search engine Google.

Though the Loon technology is not entirely proven, it could help speed the restoration of vital communications as the USA territory works to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

A spokeswoman for Claro, a major wireless and land-line network operator on Puerto Rico, said Google approached the company to ask about a cellular frequency that Claro doesn't use.

The #ProjectLoon team at X is exploring if it's possible to bring emergency connectivity to Puerto Rico.

  • Regina Holmes