Google to use balloons to provide Puerto Rico mobile phone service

Google to use balloons to provide Puerto Rico mobile phone service

Google to use balloons to provide Puerto Rico mobile phone service

Project Loon - the balloon delivered internet project that started life as part of Google and now calls Alphabet's X "innovation lab" home - has moved one step closer to becoming a part of the relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Less than 25 percent of its cellphone towers are back online, and power has only been restored to about 10 percent of the island, according to a site run by the Puerto Rican government.

Puerto Rico's infrastructure was demolished by Hurricane Maria.

In late September, Tesla said it was sending hundreds of batteries that can store power generated by solar panels to Puerto Rico to provide emergency help in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

Loon balloons, which carry communications equipment as high as 20 kilometers into the atmosphere, would circumvent those earthbound hurdles - at least temporarily. Google parent company Alphabet has proposed launching balloons over the island to bring Wi-Fi service to hard-to-reach places, as it has in other parts of the world.

But there are limitations, she said Saturday. To deliver signal to people's devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner's network - the balloons can't do it alone.

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The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said 83 per cent of mobile sites remain out of service, while wireless communications companies had deployed temporary sites. It's a different story for Puerto Rico.

Much of the ground work is being spearheaded by nonprofit organizations and small firms with expertise in rural or emergency communications.

Earlier on Friday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced he was forming a Hurricane Recovery Task Force with an emphasis on addressing challenges facing Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Tesla is now working on "the world's biggest" lithium ion battery to help with power supply in South Australia. "People know right away".

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