TECHNOLOGY

Google Is Sending High-Altitude Balloons to Bring Internet Back to Puerto Rico

The government just gave the go ahead for Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to deploy the experimental tech.

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BY Jessica Stillman - 10 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Apparently, Elon Musk isn't the only internet mogul stepping in to help storm-battered Puerto Rico. Just as the Tesla boss sees the island's devastation as an opportunity to rebuild the electrical grid with his company's cutting-edge tech, Google's parent company Alphabet has spied an opportunity to both help residents of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands rebuild and to test out one of its most experimental technologies.

With 83 percent of the island's cell towers still down, the company just received the go ahead from the FCC to deploy high-altitude helium balloons to bring cell and internet coverage back to the islands. Named Project Loon and developed by the company's "moonshot" X lab division, the balloons will deliver emergency LTE cellular reception so residents can contact loved ones and relief workers can coordinate their efforts. The license expires in April 2018.

Loon is "designed to bring connectivity to remote areas of the world and locales struggling in the aftermath of natural disaster. It appears to be a perfect fit for helping Puerto Rico get back online. Helping speed up the process is the Loon team's existing involvement with telecommunications provider Telefonica on the island," reports The Verge.

That partnership with a local provider is key to the success of the scheme, according to X lab. "To deliver signal to people's devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner's network -- the balloons can't do it alone," a spokesperson told Endgadget in a statement.

The balloons were previously successfully deployed to Peru earlier this year after severe flooding. Let's hope they soon get Puerto Ricans reconnected with each other and the world too.