How giant balloons could restore wireless service in Puerto Rico

RavenAeroStar

Google’s Project Loon just received an experimental license from the FCC and could soon be launched in Puerto Rico to provide emergency connectivity.

Editor's Pick

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Project Loon, it’s essentially a balloon-delivered wireless service project that’s part of X, Alphabet’s semi-secret research and development facility. Loon balloons have already been successfully launched in Peru back in May, providing Internet connectivity in flood zones around Lima, Chimbote, and Piura. The team claims that more than 160 GB of data was “sent to people over a combined area of 40,000 km2.” Now, Alphabet wants to do something similar in Puerto Rico where most people are still without any cell service.

According to the FCC, 83 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico are out of service, 57 percent for the US Virgin Islands, and 100 percent for St. John.

According to the FCC, 83 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico are out of service, 57 percent for the US Virgin Islands, and 100 percent for St. John. The organization has already issues an experimental license for Loon balloons to launch over the devastated islands, but the company says that it may take some time. In the case of Peru, the team had already been working with the country’s local carrier Telefonica, so integrating its network into the Loon balloons was prompt and relatively uncomplicated. It’s a different story for Puerto Rico. However, a spokesperson from X reassures that they are making solid progress on the next few steps:

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. To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network — the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand.