Alphabet Deploys Project Loon LTE Cellular Balloons To Light Up Puerto Rico

Alphabet's Project Loon team has sent LTE balloons up in the sky over parts of Puerto Rico. Project leader Alastair Westgarth stated in a blog post that his team was working with the government of Puerto Rico, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA), FEMA, and others to make this happen. The team is also collaborating with wireless carrier AT&T to deliver emergency Internet services to the hardest hit parts of the island.

"Working with AT&T, Project Loon is now supporting basic communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones. This is the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this," Westgarth said.

Project Loon

Puerto Rico was recently ravaged by a Category 4 hurricane, which among other things caused significant damage to the island's connectivity infrastructure. This is where Google's parent company is stepping in, through its Project Loon team. This is not the first time that the Project Loon division has deployed balloons to deliver to Internet connectivity, though this is the most rapid deployment from scratch. The effort took a lot of cooperation from several other entities, to cut through the red tape as quickly as possible.

Project Loon is still an experimental technology. As such, the team is upfront about not being sure exactly how well it will work. However, the team is confident that it will help people who have been affected by the hurricane to stay informed and be able to communicate through their LTE-enabled cellular device.

Puerto Rico is home to nearly 3.5 million people. The vast majority of Puerto Rico's cell towers were knocked offline by the hurricane, leaving most residents without mobile communication and Internet connectivity.

"We plan to continue to offer emergency internet connectivity in areas where it’s needed for as long as it is useful and we’re able to do so," Westgarth said.