Alphabet, Google’s parent company has received permission from the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) to deploy Project Loon balloons over Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for up to six months. Project Loon is Alphabet X innovation lab’s initiative where it beams high-speed WiFi internet via balloons down.
Over 83 percent of Puerto Rico has been affected by no cellphone coverage by Hurricane Irma Maria. The FCC issued an “emergency license” for X to deploy its balloons using spectrum in the 900MHz band to Puerto Rico to restore cellphone service. The balloons will also help restore service in the US Virgin Islands, which were affected by the hurricane. The license extends from October 6th until April 4th, 2018, and it was granted to Ben Wojtowicz, a software engineer and member of Alphabet’s X lab who works on Project Loon. Earlier this year, Project Loon was deployed to Peru after a series of devastating floods.
Each helium balloon from the Project Loon can provide connectivity to a ground area about 40 km in diameter using 4G LTE. They work by “relaying communications between Alphabet’s own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users’ handsets.”
Alphabet’s X lab spokesperson Libby Leahy told 9to5Google,
We’re grateful for the support of the FCC and the Puerto Rican authorities as we work hard to see if it’s possible to use Loon balloons to bring emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need. To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network — the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand.
Last year, the government had asked Google to resubmit a fresh proposal for testing Project Loon in India. There has been no update on the development of the issue since then.