Google's parent company to restore wireless service in Puerto Rico using balloons

Jon Howard
October 8, 2017

Project Loon sends balloons intro the stratosphere - twice as high as commercial airliners - where they are self-powered by solar panels.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Friday gave Google's parent company a green light to provide emergency cellular service in Puerto Rico using air balloons.

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

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, speaking to news media after a bipartisan Congressional visit to the island, said Brigadier General Jose Reyes, Assistant Adjutant General of the Puerto Rico National Guard, told Blumenthal that "there will be 17,000 military personnel", including 8,600 National Guard troops from 13 US states.

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The approval is part of the FCC's larger promise to form a hurricane recovery task force that's primarily focused on Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. Private companies have stepped up to that challenge, like Tesla sending its Powerwall batteries and technicians (an effort that may be upgraded to building out PR's next grid, given the positive Twitter exchange between Governor Ricardo Rossello and Tesla CEO Elon Musk).

Musk, the chief executive of Tesla Inc, said on Friday the company would send more battery installers to Puerto Rico to help restore power after Hurricane Maria knocked out all power on the island over two weeks ago.

As Wired points out, Alphabet used the balloons to provide phone service in Peru after flooding ravaged the country, but Puerto Rico might be a little tougher.

In a statement given to Engadget, a spokesperson for Alphabet's X lab said the team needs to work with a partner network of a local telecom, like Telefonica, to make it all work. In Puerto Rico, things are still in the planning stages.

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