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Alphabet To Restore Puerto Rico Cellular Service With Balloons: Will Project Loon Succeed?

9 October 2017, 8:24 am EDT By Aaron Mamiit Tech Times
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Google parent Alphabet has received approval from the Federal Communications Commission to try to restore cellular services in Puerto Rico through a network of balloons.

The purpose of the emergency license for Alphabet's Project Loon is to enable communication within Puerto Rico and for those overseas wishing to establish contact with their loved ones in the islands, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month.

Project Loon In Puerto Rico

The emergency license issued by the FCC became effective on Oct. 6 and will last until April 4, 2018. It was given to Ben Wojtowicz, a software engineer under Alphabet's X lab, which has Project Loon under its belt.

The high-flying helium balloons will look to provide LTE cellular reception to the citizens and local governments of Puerto Rico, to improve the coordination of relief and restoration efforts and to reestablish communication within the island and the outside world. The balloons will also do the same for the similarly tragedy-stricken US Virgin Islands.

It is unclear how many Project Loon balloons will be deployed for the endeavor, and how expansive the coverage of the emergency LTE signal will be. The start date of the deployment of the balloons over the areas is also unknown.

The high-flying balloons were able to help Peru earlier in the year amid significant floods in the country, and so success in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is largely expected. 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.

However, before it is able to proceed with its plan in Puerto Rico, Project Loon will first need to find a carrier that is willing to partner with it for the endeavor. Alphabet spokeswoman Libby Leahy said that it is making good progress in that regard.

Helping Puerto Rico

Private companies and governments of other countries have extended their hand to help Puerto Rico, as the island looks to recover from the ruins left behind by Hurricane Maria.

Elon Musk, the visionary founder of Tesla and SpaceX, is one of the people who have offered aid to Puerto Rico, though at a much larger scale than most. He recently offered to rebuild the Puerto Rico power grid using solar panels, which prompted Governor Ricardo Rossello to give Musk a chance to talk about making the island the flagship project for Musk's alternative energy efforts.

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