Experimental Balloons Restore Internet in Puerto Rico

Google parent launches 'Project Loon'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 21, 2017 8:29 AM CDT
Experimental Balloons Bring Internet Back in Puerto Rico
This undated photo provided by Project Loon shows a stratospheric balloon launch site and crane at the former Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Ceiba, Puerto Rico.   (Project Loon via AP)

Google's parent Alphabet Inc. says its stratospheric balloons are now delivering the Internet to remote areas of Puerto Rico where cellphone towers were knocked out by Hurricane Maria. Two of the search giant's "Project Loon" balloons are already over the country enabling texts, emails, and basic web access to AT&T customers with handsets that use its 4G LTE network, the AP reports. The balloons—called HBAL199 and HBAL237—are more than 60,000 feet above land, according to FlightRadar24.com. They navigate using an algorithm that puts them in the best position to deliver signal by rising and falling to ride wind currents. They are also solar-powered and only provide signal during the day

Several more balloons are on their way from Nevada, and Alphabet has been authorized by the Federal Communications Commission to send up to 30 balloons to serve hard-hit areas, according to Libby Leahy, spokeswoman for Alphabet's X, its division for futuristic technologies. Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth said in a blog post that Project Loon is "still an experimental technology and we're not quite sure how well it will work," though it has been tested since last year in Peru following flooding there. Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory of 3.4 million people last month. Less than a fifth of the island has electricity, and half its cellphone towers are still not functioning,

(Read more Puerto Rico stories.)

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