Alphabet has partnered with AT&T to deploy experimental communications balloons which will provide internet to residents of U.S. territory Puerto Rico who are suffering from the after-effects of Hurricane Maria which destroyed the island’s broadband and wireless communications networks. According to Alphabet, LTE-enabled mobile phones in some of areas that have been the hardest hit in Puerto Rico will be offered limited internet connectivity using Project Loon’s balloons.
“We’ve never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we’re grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible,” the head of Project Loon, Alastair Westgarth, wrote in an online posting.
Emergency cellular service
Earlier in the month the Federal Communications Commission gave approval to the application by Alphabet to offer emergency cellular service in Puerto Rico by making use of 30 balloons. Last week Alphabet clarified that it would not be necessary to use that many balloons since each balloon was capable of offering internet services to an area measuring approximately 1,930 square miles of 5,000 square kilometers. Puerto Rico’s land area measures 3,515 square miles.
According to an Alphabet spokesperson, Libby Leahy, Alphabet already has a couple of balloons in Puerto Rico while there are more which will be made available soon. Since Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, the island has experienced challenges with regards to regaining communications services. By the end of last week, about 68% of cell sites were still out of service per the Federal Communications Commission.
Hurricane Recovery Task Force
The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, had earlier in the month said he would be forming a Hurricane Recovery Task Force concentrating on the communication problems being witnessed not just in Puerto Rico but in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
In a filing with the U.S. FCC, Alphabet said it was making efforts in the island to offer support to carriers to restore limited communications capability using the high-altitude, solar-powered balloons. Alphabet added that it was a learning experience for the company since it was using algorithms powered by machine learning for the first time in order to ensure that balloons remained clustered over the island of Puerto Rico.
Alphabet stated that Project Loon would provide services to Puerto Rico dependent on how useful it would turn out to be since it was an experimental technology. Last year Project Loon in conjunction with telecommunications firm Telefonica provided service to Peruvians after floods devastated their country.