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Google Is Using Balloons to Restore Phone Service in Puerto Rico

Google Is Using Balloons to Restore Phone Service in Puerto Rico

The US Federal Communications Commission that it gave Google permission to provide hurricane-hit Puerto Rico with emergency cell service using balloons. The balloons have been used previously in flood-stricken Peru to restore cell service, with fantastic results.

Tesla had previously said, in late September, that it was sending to Puerto Rico hundreds of batteries that can rely on solar panels to store power which provides emergency aid in the wake of Hurricane Maria. The X innovations team that runs Project Loon, which was spun out of Google, now needs to finalize a telecomms firm to partner with.

Google's parent company, Alphabet Inc, started Project Loon, which was created to give internet connectivity to people in rural places and is now being used for disaster relief.

Loon balloons work by "relaying communications between Alphabet's own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users' handsets". The team claims that more than 160 GB of data was "sent to people over a combined area of 40,000 km".

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"This is the first time that balloon powered internet has connected tens of thousands of people", Alastair Westgarth, head of Project Loon, wrote on the project's blog. In Puerto Rico, things are still in the planning stages.

In a report issued yesterday (PDF), the FCC said 83 percent of cell sites in Puerto Rico are still out of service, along with 57 percent in the US Virgin Islands and 100 percent in St. John.

Google isn't the only tech giant extending a helping hand to Puerto Rico.

But in its application to the FCC, Alphabet included letters and emails from eight wireless carriers in Puerto Rico, in which they consented for Loon to use their frequencies for disaster relief and to restore limited communications. She added that "we've been making solid progress" on that next step.

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