Google officially flips on its internet-beaming balloons in Puerto Rico


It will keep the internet-beaming balloons in areas that need connectivity for as long as possible. The company said on Friday it does not expect to use that many since each balloon can provide internet service to an area of roughly 5,000 square kilometres, or 1,930 square miles.

On Friday, Google parent company Alphabet said it is collaborating with AT&T, Apple, and various other government agencies to deliver limited wireless internet access to Puerto Rico via the company's Project Loon balloons.

For LTE phones on AT&T that support Band 8, there will be no distinction between whether they are receiving service from cell towers or Loon balloons.

In the October 18, 2017, photo above, a stratospheric balloon takes off for Puerto Rico from the project site in Winnemucca, Nevada. It is part of an innovation lab within Alphabet that the company calls X, previously known as Google X. Per a recent update from Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth, this marks the first time the group's machine learning algorithms have been used to cluster these balloons over Puerto Rico.

"We are working with AT&T to activate cellular service for iPhone users in Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria".

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Alphabet'sProject Loon team has sent LTE balloons up in the sky over parts of Puerto Rico.

While Project Loon is far from ideal, how well it performs (or doesn't) in Puerto Rico may be a sign of things to come.

Project Loon has been working together with Telefonica and the Peruvian Government to deliver basic Internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people in affected areas around Lima, Chimbote and Piura.

Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth says in a blog post that the technology is still experimental, though it has been tested since a year ago in Peru following flooding there. "Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we're not quite sure how well it will work, but we hope it helps get people the information and communication they need to get through this unimaginably hard time", Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon, says in a blog post. As part of the tie-up, AT&T would be allowing Loon to use its fleet of stratospheric helium balloons. Additionally, during the emergency response to the flood, O3B networks, Level 3 and Ecologistica Peru helped quickly set up ground stations (which connect the balloons to the Internet's backbone) in areas with complete outages.

This month, the US Federal Communications Commission approved Alphabet's application to provide emergency cellular service to Puerto Rico using up to 30 balloons.