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Turning on Project Loon in Puerto Rico

By Alastair Westgarth, Alphabet Project Loon Head

October 23, 2017

Last month, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane and caused significant damage to the island’s connectivity infrastructure. In the weeks following this disaster, the Project Loon team has been working with the Government of Puerto Rico, the FCC, the FAA, FEMA, spectrum partners and international aviation authorities to bring balloon powered internet to the island to help. Thanks to their support, we are now collaborating with AT&T to deliver emergency internet service to the hardest hit parts of the island.

Working 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. This is the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this. As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible.

A Loon balloon getting ready to take flight to Puerto Rico from our launch site in Nevada

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. Thanks to the Pan-American and Puerto Rican governments’ aviation authorities and air traffic controllers, who enabled us to send small teams of balloons from our launch site in Nevada to Puerto Rico. Thanks also to SES Networks and Liberty Cablevision who helped quickly set up essential ground infrastructure so that the balloons could get internet connectivity.

We plan to continue to offer emergency internet connectivity in areas where it’s needed for as long as it is useful and we’re able to do so. Project Loon is still an experimental technology and we’re not quite sure how well it will work, but we hope it helps get people the information and communication they need to get through this unimaginably difficult time.

A Loon balloon on its way to Puerto Rico from Nevada

About Project Loon

Project Loon is a network of stratospheric balloons designed to deliver internet connectivity to rural and remote areas worldwide. Loon balloons sail on winds in the stratosphere, extending the reach of our telecommunication partner’s networks into areas that are currently unconnected.

 

How Project Loon works

Since our first sizable tests in New Zealand in 2013, Loon balloons have flown more than 26 million kms around the world. Thanks to improvements in balloon design and durability, many balloons stay airborne for more than 100 days, with our record breaking balloon staying aloft for 190 days. This is the second time that Project Loon has been used to connect people after a disaster. In early 2017, Project Loon delivered basic internet connectivity to tens of thousands of people in flood-affected zones in Peru in partnership with the Peruvian government and Telefonica.

We’d also like to the thank the following companies for their spectrum support:

High Tech Communications Services Inc., MilkyWay Communications LLC, North Sight Communications Inc., PDV Spectrum Holding Company, LLC, Space Data Spectrum Holdings, LLC, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority/PREPA Networks LLC, Sensus Spectrum LLC, and Spok, Inc.

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