Tuesday, 17 October, 2017

Alphabet to provide cellular connectivity in Puerto Rico via 30 balloons

Google's Project Loon uses balloons to send mobile phone signals to remote areas
Credit
Google via AFP Google's Project Loon uses balloons to send mobile phone signals to remote areas Credit Google via AFP
Sherri Watson | 09 October, 2017, 18:21

Harris notes in a series of tweets that over the past week, the Loon team secured "spectrum rights from wireless networks in PR and US Virgin Islands".

According to the FCC, all 78 Puerto Rican counties are still affected [PDF] by communications service outages as of October 8 in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Google parent company Alphabet, which announced its Project Loon in 2013 to use solar-powered, high-altitude balloons to provide internet service in remote regions, said in an FCC filing it was working to "support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability" in Puerto Rico. The company will attempt to enable LTE connectivity using its high-flying Project Loon balloons.

The FCC, under special temporary authority, issued an emergency license for Loon to begin operation of up to 30 experimental units.

On Friday, 83 percent of the island's cell sites were out of service, according to the FCC - down only slightly from 84.6 percent the day before. Loon will provide Puerto Ricans with access to cell service even if the cell sites are not yet restored.

One of the problems that appears, as it has been established, is that the company has never proven in Puerto Rico if this technology manages to have connectivity with the telecommunications companies in the island.

Its balloons float 20km high in the stratosphere.

Due to the scale of the disaster, Tesla, Google, and Facebook are also involved in projects to help reconnect digital infrastructure in the battered country.

"'Loon' needs to be integrated with a telco partner's network, the balloons cannot do it alone", an Alphabet spokesperson was quoted as saying.

This experimental service by Alphabet has already proven to be successful in an initial run that was carried out in Peru in May after storms wiped out mobile services there, reports Gizmodo. "Using this data, our software algorithms are able to determine which altitude has a wind pattern that gives us the best chance of keeping our balloons close to the areas where we want them", Project Loon said at the time. 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. "In total, the balloon managed to spend 14 weeks in Peruvian airspace, which required making almost 20,000 separate altitude adjustments during its flight".