The moonshot project from Google, named Project Loon, and AT&T® have joined hands to offer cell services to hurricane struck Puerto Rico. X, a former branch of Google, which is now a part of Alphabet Inc, developed the project Loon. Then idea is to broaden the coverage making use of balloons that act like mobile towers.
X was in need of a telecom partner to bring the services to Puerto Rico and that is where AT&T®, the best internet provider, came into the scene. The businesses said that they are “now supporting basic communication” for “some people with LTE enabled phones.” It is reported that people will be able to make use of the “limited” Loon service to send text and access the internet, even though the companies are not yet clear on the number of users who have gained access to the coverage offered.
The Federal Communications Commission has given permission to fly up to thirty balls. A spokesperson from X said that there are a handful of balloons in the area and that more balloons are on the way. Even after one month of the Hurricane Maria ripping through the island, more than sixty-eight percent of the cell sites of Puerto Rico are out of service as per the reports from FCC.
The fragile infrastructure of the island impedes companies like AT&T® from restoring the service to many regions of the island. This has made them turn to alternative technologies. They are making use of temporary satellite based cell sites in some of the areas and the main aim of Loon is to reach the areas that are hardest hit by the hurricane. An AT&T® spokesperson said that these balloons are solar powered and can use battery power when the sun is not available. However, there are limitations. The Loon coverage is much limited at nighttime.
Loon proved to be an effective idea for flooded area of Peru earlier. X said that the reason for Loon running quickly in Peru was that the group had been working with Telefónica. The systems were already integrated and tests conducted, months before Loon ramping up the internet coverage. However, in Puerto Rico X had to start from scratch. FCC issued an “experimental license” to X on Oct. 7, and at that time, they were not having a telecom partner for the project.
“We’ve never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace,” Loon project director Alastair Westgarth said. “Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we’re not quite sure how well it will work, but we hope it helps get people the information and communication they need to get through this unimaginably difficult time.”