Google Project Loon Gains Clearance To Blanket Devastated Puerto Rico With LTE Service Balloons
Sometimes the things that Alphabet/Google tries to do out of its X branch sound insane, but this is why it's called the moonshot factory. One of the odd projects that has come out of X is Project Loon. The idea behind this project is to strap hardware that beams internet down to the masses underneath high altitude balloons.
X has gained permission to blanket the devastated territory of Puerto Rico with LTE internet access using Project Loon balloons. After Hurricane Maria made landfall and devastated the area, the electric grid and wireless communications are still mostly out of service. According to the FCC, a full 83% of cellular sites remain dark in Puerto Rico.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai said, "It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services."
To help communications the FCC as authorized the use of Project Loon over the territory. X division has noted that deploying Project loon over Puerto Rico would definitely be harder than deploying over Peru, which was done back in May after massive flooding caused disruption in internet and communications around that country. The reason for increased difficulty is that Loon was already in testing in Peru with a carrier and was ready to roll.
In Puerto Rico, there is no existing infrastructure to support Loon. Alphabet's X division works with existing telecommunication carries in an area with Loon and that existing carrier's service gets relayed across the balloons and directly to the LTE devices in the hands of users on the ground. The Loon team has reportedly secured spectrum rights from wireless networks operating in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands good for at least six months.
Another potential hiccup in rolling out LTE via Loon balloons high in the sky is that some phones might need to be updated to allow them to operate on Band 8, which is required for Loon. Devices from Samsung, Apple, LG, and others are capable of supporting LTE from Loon but will require an update OTA that can be undone later when the crisis is over with another OTA update.
The other issue that will hinder recovery efforts in Puerto Rico pertains to power. The electric grid was hit hard during the hurricane leaving much of the territory with no power. Tesla promised in September that it would send hundreds of batteries to store electricity that are charged by solar panels for emergency help in restoring power. Tesla has also agreed this week to send more installers to help recovery efforts.