More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, much of the island remains without access to cell phone service and electricity. Puerto Rico will be Project Loon’s biggest challenge since Alphabet’s X officially launched the effort in 2013.
X’s plan is to float the solar-powered, helium-filled balloons about 19 kilometers above Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands for up to six months, creating a wireless network on the ground covering nearly 7,800 square kilometers.
Project Loon is now looking to collaborate with local telecom providers in Puerto Rico, which could install small base stations called microcells on lampposts, buildings and other locations where there is a clear line of sight with the sky.
“It’s more than enough spectrum to connect Puerto Rico to the rest of the world for voice calls and text messaging, but you won’t be able to stream YouTube videos,” adds Dhananjay, who is not involved with Project Loon.
Help cannot come soon enough for Puerto Rico’s residents, who have been scrambling to find cell service to communicate with one another and with family and friends living off the island.
X spokesperson Libby Leahy released a statement saying, “We’re grateful for the support of the FCC and the Puerto Rican authorities as we work hard to see if it’s possible to use Loon balloons to bring emergency connectivity to the island during this time of need. To deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs be integrated with a telco partner’s network-the balloons can’t do it alone. We’ve been making solid progress on this next step and would like to thank everyone who’s been lending a hand.”