Published: Tue, October 10, 2017
Economy | By Shawn Conner

Google Project Loon to deliver cell coverage to Puerto Rico

Google Project Loon to deliver cell coverage to Puerto Rico

More than two weeks after the storm, about 82% of the island is still without cell service, the FCC said Saturday.

Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc, started Project Loon, which was created to give internet connectivity to people in rural places and is now being used for disaster relief.

That's because Alphabet was given a temporary license (October 6 to April 4, 2018) by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to operate Project Loon in the USA territories.

A Project Loon balloon. Loon will provide Puerto Ricans with access to cell service even if the cell sites are not yet restored.

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Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez has said that "The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back almost 20 to 30 years", and reports say that even after two weeks since Maria made landfall over the island, only less than 12% of the region has electricity, only 55% of Puerto Ricans have access to drinking water, and only 44% have working mobile connectivity.

Google is planning to use experimental high-altitude balloons to provide cell and internet coverage in Puerto Rico.

More than 90 percent of people on the island of Puerto Rico don't have power, and more than 80 percent don't have access to wireless cell service, according to the most recent advisories from FEMA and the Federal Communications Commission.

It is still unclear which parts of the island will receive Loon connectivity, but reports suggest that Google has been granted "emergency licence" to operate on the commonwealth until 4 April 2018.

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The project was initially announced in 2013, intending to use balloons at high altitudes - and powered by the sun - to get cell service and internet capabilities into remote areas.

Google parent company Alphabet offered to float its Project Loon balloons over the island, bringing Wi-Fi service to hard-to-reach places. Tests have shown that the network can transmit between balloons that are over 100 km (62 miles) apart and down to users on the ground at speeds of 10 Mbps. For that to happen, X needs to partner with a telecom company that can provide that connectivity. X performed similar relief effort in Peru earlier this year after intense flooding disrupted the local infrastructure.

This is not Project Loon's first deployment outside the US. However, in Puerto Rico, where about 84.6% of cell sites remain inactive as of October 5, it will be very hard. "We've been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who's been lending a hand".

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