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article imageAlphabet’s Project Loon officially launched in Puerto Rico

By Karen Graham     Oct 21, 2017 in Technology
AT&T and Alphabet announced late Friday that they have begun to offer limited mobile Internet service using the Google parent company's "Project Loon" balloons.
The stratospheric balloons are now delivering limited mobile Internet services to remote areas of Puerto Rico where cellphone towers were knocked out by Hurricane Maria.
In a company blog written by Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth, the company said it is working with the Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Aviation Authority, FEMA, and other cellular spectrum and aviation authorities to connect remote areas to the rest of the world.
The LTE balloons - called HBAL199 and HBAL237, are over 60,000 feet (18,000 meters) above the island and navigate using an algorithm that puts them in the best position to deliver a signal on the rising and falling wind currents, reports CTV News Canada.
Libby Leahy, a spokeswoman for Alphabet's X, its division for futuristic technologies, said the FCC has allowed for as many as 30 of the balloons to be deployed over Puerto Rico, and several more of the balloons are already on their way from Nevada.
A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from our launch site in Nevada.
A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from our launch site in Nevada.
Project Loon
Alphabet is working in collaboration with AT&T. Project Loon is now supporting basic communication and internet activities like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE enabled phones. Apple is issuing a cellular settings update that will allow iPhones to activate the currently unused Band 8 to access the Loon-based service.
Alphabet says this is the first time they have used their new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so learning is still in progress. An added concern was the speed of the deployment. “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,” Westgarth writes.
The only downside to the project is the balloons are solar-powered, so Internet connectivity is only available during daylight hours. However, AT&T said Friday that more than 60 percent of the population in Puerto Rico and 90 percent of the population in the U.S. Virgin Islands have cell service.
More about Alphabet, Google, Project Loon, 4G LTE network, Puerto rico
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