Published: Mon, October 23, 2017
Tech | By Constance Martin

Project Loon LTE balloons restore some communications in Puerto Rico

Project Loon LTE balloons restore some communications in Puerto Rico

The communications are being made possible by Project Loon's balloons; they're now giving people access to the Internet and text messaging in parts of the island hit hardest by Hurricane Maria.

According to Alphabet, it's teaming up with the Government of Puerto Rico, the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Authority, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and other cellular spectrum partners and worldwide aviation authorities to make this possible. This is where Google's parent company is stepping in, through its Project Loon team. As part of the tie-up, AT&T would be allowing Loon to use its fleet of stratospheric helium balloons. Balloons used for the Puerto Rico efforts were being launched from Nevada. They would be able to send text messages and do minor web browsing.

Alphabet said it will continue the project as long as it can usefully do so.

Loon was granted an experimental license by the FCC earlier this month to help provide emergency cellular service in the region, but it wasn't clear how much the balloons would help because they still needed a telco partner with which to integrate. The Project Loon team also thanked the Pan-American and Puerto Rican governments' aviation authorities and air traffic controllers.

Alphabet's Project Loon has brought basic communications back to parts of Puerto Rico for individuals who have LTE phones. SES Networks and Liberty Cablevision also played an important role in Project Loon.

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In a blog post, Loon head Alastair Westgarth thanks several partners, including aviation aviation and companies on the ground who set up "essential ground infrastructure".

This is the second time that Project Loon has been used to connect people after a disaster.

In March, Peru was battered by extreme rains and flooding, with the government declaring more than 800 provinces to be in a state of emergency. This isn't the first time Project Loon balloons have been used to restore basic communications following a disaster - that distinction goes to the team's work in Peru previous year following extensive flooding.

High Tech Communications Services Inc., MilkyWay Communications LLC, North Sight Communications Inc., PDV Spectrum Holding Company, LLC, Space Data Spectrum Holdings, LLC, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority/PREPA Networks LLC, Sensus Spectrum LLC, and Spok, Inc.
The balloons were part of a country-wide disaster relief program. It is still a work-in-progress, but Westgarth explains that Project Loon will try to keep the balloons available over Puerto Rico for as long as they're needed. The situation is expected to improve within a few days since getting the green light by FCC.

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