Alphabet's Internet balloons will try to restore cell service in Puerto Rico


An experimental license has been granted by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission or FCC to Project Loon by Google to provide emergency cellular services across all of Puerto Rico, which recently was devastated by a hurricane.

The FCC has given Google permission to deploy its Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico.

Separately, the FCC last week said it would let carriers use up to $77 million from the Universal Service Fund to restore service in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

"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.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to send a "connectivity team" to help restore communications in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

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.

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.

"22 (same as yesterday ) out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100 percent of their cell sites out of service".

Project Loon has been used in emergencies before, including months ago during heavy flooding in Peru. The reason for increased difficulty is that Loon was already in testing in Peru with a carrier and was ready to roll.

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

Technology behemoths Google and Elon Musk-owned Tesla have come to the rescue of Puerto Rico, which is slowly recovering from the devastating hurricanes Mari and Irma. Harris notes in a series of tweets that over the past week, the Loon team secured "spectrum rights from wireless networks in PR and US Virgin Islands". 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.

According to The Verge, Project Loon will need to work with a partner telecom network to make it all work.

The project works by ground stations connecting to the local internet infrastructure and beaming signals to the balloons.