Alphabet balloon project to provide limited internet in Puerto Rico

Alphabet balloon project to provide limited internet in Puerto Rico

Apple is working with AT&T and Google parent-company Alphabet to enable emergency LTE in Puerto Rico after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria last month.

The island's wireless and broadband communications networks were devastated after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico last month. Loon's official LTE partner for the initiative is AT&T, which is helping Loon use its fleet of stratospheric helium balloons to bring functions like text messaging and minor web browsing access to Puerto Rico residents who have LTE-equipped smartphones.

Several more balloons are on their way from Nevada, and Alphabet has been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to send up to 30 balloons to serve the hard-hit area, according to Libby Leahy, spokeswoman for Alphabet's X, its division for futuristic technologies. The urgency in Puerto Rico really allows Alphabet's project to shine and prove itself viable. As of Friday, 68 percent of cell sites remained out of service, the FCC said.

The balloons can stay in the stratosphere for more than a hundred days and each Loon can provide data transmission over a 100 kilometer range, according to the project's website.

Alphabet said this was "the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we're still learning how best to do this".

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One of the challenges is becoming more familiar with the shifting winds in the region, Westgarth said.

Alphabet said it will continue the project as long as it can usefully do so.

Loon was developed at X, formerly called Google X. The lab is responsible for the search giant's most audacious projects, or "moonshots", including self-driving cars and smart contact lenses with glucose readers for diabetics.

The balloons have previously been used in other disaster relief efforts, including following flooding in Peru past year, as well as in Sri Lanka, Brazil, Indonesia and New Zealand.

This is also and the first time Alphabet has turned on Project Loon in the United States.

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