Alphabet gets FCC approval for Project Loon deployment in Puerto Rico

Pablo Tucker
October 10, 2017

Freelance journalist Mark Harris spotted that Project Loon was granted permission earlier today by the FCC to provide the coverage to Puerto Rico.

Developed as part of Google's "moonshot" initiatives, Project Loon is an idea to bring wireless connections to remote areas of the world or, in cases like Puerto Rico, to places where infrastructure damage requires emergency action.

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

The effort also received consent agreements from existing carriers in Puerto Rico to utilize spectrum in the 900 MHz band, and FCC officials said the project will attempt to initiate service on the island. Just as Chairman Ajit Pai of FCC said, innovative plans are needed to restore connectivity to the island. "[Project Loon] could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information", Pai said.

Project Loon, part of Google's original "moonshot" efforts, was created to bring connectivity to remote parts of the world and areas struggling with the aftermath of a natural disaster. "All counties in Puerto Rico, except Bayamon, Catano, Carolina, Guaynabo, San Juan, and Toa Baja, have greater than 75 percent of their cell sites out of service".

The team behind Project Loon uses air balloons as vehicles of change that, equipped with specialized relaying instruments, capture cellular signals transmitted by ground stations and beam them down from above. Its main goal is to provide mobile connectivity to disaster and rural areas through weather balloons with fitted with cell radios. The balloons operate at altitudes between 60,000 and 80,000 feet. Each balloon has the capacity to serve 1,930 square miles or 5,000 square kilometers, effectively covering the entire island and some parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands. The reason for increased difficulty is that Loon was already in testing in Peru with a carrier and was ready to roll.

Spokesperson Libby Leahy said X is making "solid progress on this next step", but the company declined to indicate a potential time frame for when the project could come online.

In May, Project Loon said that it responding to the flooding in Peru, it worked with the government of Peru and Telefonica to deliver basic connectivity to Internet for tens of thousands affected in the areas close to Chimbote, Piura and the capital of Lima. The balloons will also do the same for the similarly tragedy-stricken US Virgin Islands.

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