Monday, 16 October, 2017

Alphabet gets FCC approval for Project Loon deployment in Puerto Rico

Peru before the floods → flood affected areas → areas near Lima Chimbote and Piura with Project Loon service Peru before the floods → flood affected areas → areas near Lima Chimbote and Piura with Project Loon service
Theresa Hayes | 10 October, 2017, 01:27

The Alphabet division that's building a balloon-powered Internet service has obtained an experimental license "to help provide emergency cellular service in Puerto Rico", the Federal Communications Commission announced Saturday.

"That's why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island", he added, urging wireless carriers to "cooperate with Project Loon to maximize this effort's chances of success".

The company will fly 30 balloons over Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The FCC said that all 78 counties in Puerto Rico remain affected by outages of communications service as of Sunday October.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said, "It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services".

It could also help prove the business case for Loon, one of the experimental "moonshots" debuted as part of Google, and now housed under Alphabet subsidiary X.

"More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services", Pai said in a report from USA Today. Rebuilding conventional cell towers will be "a long road", T-Mobile told CNN, thanks to challenges including not just the cost of construction, but, according to some wireless companies, theft and crime against their operations. One of the odd projects that has come out of X is Project Loon. The company, along with Microsoft and others, backs the NetHope consortium, which specializes in setting up post-disaster communication networks and has field teams now operating in Puerto Rico and several other Caribbean islands.

Initially created to drift, the balloons are now equipped with navigation systems, powered by solar panels, which keep them in a specific area. Finally, the recent integration of Nokia's proven LTE technology meant that the balloons could deliver improved LTE service. But ahead of the floods, Loon had already been working with Telefonica, the country's largest cell and data provider.

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