ibusinesslines.com February 21, 2018

Google to use balloons to supply Puerto Rico with a mobile service

09 October 2017, 04:39 | Jodi Jackson

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Kevin Carman an Energy Department manager surveys power lines in eastern Puerto Rico during a flyover in a Black Hawk helicopter on Oct. 5 2017

In a special report issued on Friday, the FCC says 83% of all cell sites on Puerto Rico, 57% on the US Virgin Islands, and 100% of sites on St. John are still out of service. They were among several tech companies proposing disaster response ideas, most aimed at getting phone and internet service up and running.

Communications remain patchy on the island. Communication is critical in the island, to facilitate contact with federal and aid organizations, and for residents to get in touch with families and relatives in the USA and other parts of the world.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg pledged to send a "connectivity team" to help restore communications in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Known now as "Project Loon" and coming out of the research arm of the company, Google [x], the initiative is taking off (so to speak) out of the need for better internet access in many parts of the world. Those balloons would aim to make up for the thousands of cellphone towers that the storm were rendered useless.

But it's worth a try if there's any chance it can help the island's 3.5 million people connect with friends and loved ones.

Google is stepping into the crisis in Puerto Rico to help out with some cutting edge technology that will provide emergency phone reception.

At the time, they noted that deploying to Puerto Rico would be harder than their previous emergency deployment to Peru as they did not have existing infrastructure in place. Without cell phones and Internet connection, reaching loved ones is very hard.

Loon was developed by X, part of Alphabet's innovation group. Its main objective is to provide mobile connectivity to disaster and rural areas through weather balloons with fitted with cell radios. Alphabet hopes to commercialize the project in the near future.

"Farmers are used to loss, rain, heavy rains and flooding". Alphabet collaborated with Telefónica, the biggest communications provider in Peru.

The project, however, is not without its challenges.

The plan is to launch high-altitude balloons that will beam signals down from more than 12 miles above the earth as a way of connecting residents. From there, they must work with an on-the-ground telecommunications system.

Hundreds of Tesla Powerwall battery systems are already in Puerto Rico and Tesla employees are in the country helping with installation and training for maintenance.

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