Published: Tue, October 10, 2017
Sports | By Jonathan Ford

Project Loon gets license to help bring back Puerto Rico cell signal

Project Loon gets license to help bring back Puerto Rico cell signal

Google's parent company Alphabet Inc. looks to restore cellular service to parts of battered Puerto Rico using a fleet of solar-powered balloons. The Federal Communications Commission said Saturday that 82 percent of cell sites remain out in Puerto Rico; 58 percent are out of service in the US Virgin Islands. Ensuring this is the fact that Alphabet has made great strides with Project Loon, with machine learning able to keep the balloons up in the air for over three months and further advances in artificial intelligence requiring less balloons to provide service to particular regions. Data is transmitted from a ground based LTE tower, relayed around the balloon network and down to users on the ground.

This special license, which is just temporary, is needed to support the licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited capability of communications in areas of the island and in some of the U.S. Virgin Islands that were affected by hurricanes.

"This is the first time that balloon powered internet has connected tens of thousands of people", Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon, wrote on the project's blog.

Earlier, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced he was forming a Hurricane Recovery Task Force with an emphasis on addressing challenges facing Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

Alphabet did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how quickly it could deploy its technology. 22 (same as yesterday) out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100% of their cell sites out of service.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to send a "connectivity team" to help restore communications in ravaged Puerto Rico. "Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner's network-the balloons can't do it alone".

Tesla is now working on "the world's biggest" lithium ion battery to help with power supply in South Australia. However, in Peru the problem was simpler because Google was already working together with a local telecom provider to provide disaster relief, so the structure for getting signals to and from the balloons was already in place.

The X Division has confirmed via an earlier statement that they have made "Solid progress" on integrating with a telco on the USA territory, which has been hard-hit by Hurricane Maria nearly a month ago.

Weeks ago Tesla sent hundreds of batteries that store power made by solar panels to the islands, and they are now making more for Puerto Rico.

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