Project Loon cleared to help restore wireless in Puerto Rico


On Friday night, the FCC announced that it had approved Alphabet, Google's parent company, to provide emergency phone reception to Puerto Rico through the use of balloons.

It aims to temporarily re-establish Puerto Rico's cellular network - where 83 per cent of cell sites were still out of service on Friday (Oct 6), according to FCC figures.

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 U.S. Virgin Islands.

Alphabet has confirmed it plans to use solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to support the restoration of "limited communications capability" in the United States unincorporated territory.

Separately, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Twitter that he had a "great initial conversation" with Elon Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc. It also took the step of creating its Hurricane Recovery Task Force that will work on restoring services to the islands.

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Though the Loon technology is not entirely proven, it could help speed the restoration of vital communications as the US territory works to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Musk said he was diverting resources from a semi-truck project to fix Model 3 bottlenecks and "increase battery production for Puerto Rico & other affected areas". The balloons that were deployed in Peru, in fact, were launched from Puerto Rico.

Lexington, Massachusetts-based Vanu Inc., which sets up wireless communications networks in rural parts of the United States, Africa and India, is sending dozens of its small, solar-powered cellular base stations to volunteer crews on the ground in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

Project Loon works by having telecommunication partners beam up service to a balloon, which in turn gets relayed across a network of balloons and then directly to LTE devices on the ground.