Alphabet's Project Loon deploys LTE balloons in Puerto Rico

Angelica Greene
October 23, 2017

Project Loon is still an experimental technology. The communications are being made possible by Project Loon's balloons; they're now giving people access to the Internet and text messaging in parts of the island hit hardest by Hurricane Maria.

"'Loon' needs to be integrated with a telco partner's network, the balloons can not do it alone", an Alphabet spokesperson was quoted as saying. The vast majority of Puerto Rico's cell towers were knocked offline by the hurricane, leaving most residents without mobile communication and Internet connectivity.

The balloons, which are now being deployed in a post-disaster setting for the second time, typically stay in the stratosphere for 100 days.

"We've never deployed Project Loon connectivity from scratch at such a rapid pace, and we're grateful for the support of AT&T and the many other partners and organizations that have made this possible", he added.

Alphabet, which launched the balloons in Nevada, said Project Loon is already providing service in Puerto Rico.

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AT&T is providing LTE service for basic communication like text messaging and internet access. It sent five planes and almost 40 ships containing network supplies, equipment, vehicles and personnel to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and it's continuing to send more assets as needed. However, he said that they meant to maintain the project "in areas where it's needed for as long as it is useful and we're able to do so".

AT&T said it's been working around the clock to restore service and as of Friday it was processing more than 12 million calls and 6 million texts a day in Puerto Rico. "This is 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".

Alphabet notes that they "plan to continue to offer emergency internet connectivity in areas where it's needed for as long as it is useful". It is yet to be seen how well Project Loon's balloon-based Internet delivery will work, but it will no doubt provide the team will information they need to refine and improve their product over time.

The use of stratospheric balloon technology is one way AT&T is helping those affected by Hurricane Maria.

High Tech Communications Services Inc., MilkyWay Communications LLC, North Sight Communications Inc., PDV Spectrum Holding Company, LLC, Space Data Spectrum Holdings, LLC, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority/PREPA Networks LLC, Sensus Spectrum LLC, and Spok, Inc.

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