Networking

Google's Project Loon will use balloons to bring cell service to Puerto Rico

Following the infrastructure damage brought by Hurricane Maria, tech giants like Google and Tesla have stepped up to help reconnect citizens.

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Image: Google

Google parent company Alphabet will use large balloons to bring cellular service to Puerto Rico, in an effort to help reconnect the country after the damage brought by Hurricane Maria. The tech firm received a formal license from the FCC on Saturday to use its Project Loon service to provide emergency cellular service to the island.

Project Loon is a part of Alphabet's X division, which develops its nontraditional "moonshot" products. The project launches balloons into the stratosphere, which then use directional antennae to beam LTE signals to users.

The project was officially announced in 2013, but had been in development since 2011. Project Loon was initially piloted in New Zealand, and it has since been trialled in numerous other places.

SEE: Power checklist: Building your disaster recovery plan (Tech Pro Research)

Now that the experimental license has been granted, an FCC press release said, Alphabet will attempt to bring the service to Puerto Rico. Project Loon will use 900 MHz band land mobile radio (LMR) radio spectrum from existing Puerto Rican providers, the release said.

"More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without

access to much-needed communications services," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in the release. "That's why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island. Project Loon is one such approach."

Pai went on to note that the service could connect hurricane victims with loved ones, but also with emergency services and life-saving information. He also urged wireless carriers to work with Project Loon to increase its chances of success.

Another tech giant, Tesla, has also been working to help the citizens of Puerto Rico. Tesla has been sending its Powerwall batteries and battery installers to the country to help bring some power back online, and it plans to keep doing so.

"The internal Tesla Powerwall install team in [Puerto Rico] is very small right now. Sending experienced installers from continental U.S. to hire & train local team as fast as possible," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said in a tweet.

In another tweet, Musk also offered to rebuild the power grid of Puerto Rico with Tesla's solar products. While the Puerto Rican governor expressed interest, it is unclear whether or not the plan will materialize.

For business leaders, the Tesla Powerwall system could be a unique way to add additional resources to your disaster recovery plan as well, keeping key systems online as a failover mechanism.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. Alphabet's Project Loon, which uses balloons to deliver cell service, could help reconnect Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.
  2. The FCC has granted Project Loon an experimental license, and FCC chairman Ajit Pai has urged local carriers to work with the project to increase its chances of success.
  3. Tesla has also been providing Powerwall batteries and installers to the island, and CEO Elon Musk has offered to potentially rebuild the power grid with solar power.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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