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Big Tech has big plans to help reconnect Puerto Rico
10 October 2017, 01:27 | Justin Tyler
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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.
Last Thursday, the Project Loon team at Alphabet's X division noted to Mashable that they were "working hard with the Puerto Rican authorities to see if there's a way for us to use Loon balloons to bring some emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need".
The licence [PDF] allows Project Loon to deploy its network of balloons using spectrum in the 900MHz band, having obtained consent from the existing carriers in the U.S. territory. The FCCsaid that 83 percent of all cell sites remain out of service while wireless companies are rolling out temporary service sites.
FCC boss Ajit Pai calls Project Loon an "innovative approach to help restore connectivity".
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. Ensuring this is the fact that Alphabet has made great strides with Project Loon, with machine learning able to keep the balloons up in the air for over three months and further advances in artificial intelligence requiring less balloons to provide service to particular regions.
Pai went on to note that the service could connect hurricane victims with loved ones, but also with emergency services and life-saving information. 22 (same as yesterday) out of the 78 counties in Puerto Rico have 100% of their cell sites out of service.
Loon balloons are created to carry communications equipment at a height of 20 kilometers above the ground.
When severe floods hit some parts of Peru earlier this year, Alphabet came to the rescue in a first-ever real-world situation, providing internet access to thousands of people down below.
The license will allow them to deliver emergency LTE cellular reception via helium balloon. Ground base stations sixty miles apart communicate with solar-powered radio transmitters affixed to the balloons that ride the 40th parallel.
According to The Verge, Project Loon will need to work with a partner telecom network to make it all work.
Loon's deployment to the US territories won't be the project's first rodeo; it has been tested over the years in multiple countries, including Brazil, New Zealand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and France, among others. The balloons will also do the same for the similarly tragedy-stricken US Virgin Islands.
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