Project Loon, the research project under former Google X Lab has got revamped by its parent company Alphabet which is now planning to use high-altitude weather balloons to provide mobile data for the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico US. Alphabet has got FCC approval to help the people in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico regain wireless access. It plans to use the high-flying Project Loon balloons for enabling LTE connectivity in these locations.
What is Project Loon?
Project Loon is a network of balloons which travel on the edge of space and are designed to extend Internet connectivity to the people living in the remote locations, rural areas and disaster zones. More than half of the world’s population do not have access to the Internet. Project Loon was aimed at making Internet and wireless connectivity available to the remote areas where the normal telecommunication services are unavailable. The Loon balloons are high-altitude balloons which fly at a height of above 60,000 feet similar to the weather balloons. These balloons are made using sheets of polyethylene and can withstand the thin atmosphere where winds blow at a speed of 100 km per hour. They move along the direction of the wind and are designed to endure in the stratosphere for a minimum of 100 days.
This emergency license was granted after FCC announced recent estimates that 83% of the commonwealth’s mobile sites in are not in operating conditions. The entire communication services were impacted by the Hurricane Maria which recently hit the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico at its strong Category 4 status. The hurricane caused a severe disruption of power and other basic services to all the people living in these two locations. According to the report from Washington post, only 11.7% of the Puerto Rican citizens have access to power and 44% have access to mobile connectivity.
In order to help the citizens of the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico regain their wireless communications, Alphabet has stepped into action and was immediately given clearance by the FCC for its project Loon. The company will partner with a local telecommunications service and proceed with its Project loon to provide LTE connectivity for the people living there. The signals will be directly transmitted to the LTE-enabled mobile devices which are channeled through a local telecommunications partner. Alphabet has done a similar experiment in Peru after severe storms attacked the nation in May.
Libby, a spokesperson from X lab has told the media the team at X is grateful for the support given by Puerto Rican authorities and the FCC. They are working hard to figure out the possibility of providing emergency connectivity services through the Project Loon balloons. In order to provide the services, they have to integrate these balloons with a telecommunication partner. The experimental license by FCC has been granted till April 2018.
Similarly, Tesla has also stepped into action to restore the power grid in Puerto Rico. Tesla’s employees are helping the people obtain electricity by deploying their Powerwall battery systems in remote locations of Puerto Rico.