Project Loon Will Float LTE to Puerto Rico

Some of the biggest names in technology have offered their help in rebuilding Puerto Rico’s infrastructure. The newest name on the list? The X division of Alphabet, who want to help fill the huge communications gap using Project Loon, their high-altitude balloon network. It looks like X is going to get their wish, as they have just been granted license from the FCC to deploy LTE cell coverage to both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.

The plan is to launch 30 balloons that will act as a network of floating cell towers to radiate an LTE signal originating from the ground. This coverage would be a great boon to a devastated communications infrastructure, but it won’t be a cakewalk to implement. Some handsets of both major persuasions will require a temporary over-the-air update before they can use Project Loon’s network. For phones that can’t operate on Band 8, it won’t work at all. Even so, it’s a great start.

Now you would think that an emergency communications restoration plan like this would be met by all parties with open arms and a circle of pats on the back, but this solution requires a lot of cooperation. One of the major hurdles was to secure spectrum rights from some if not all of the incumbent wireless carriers. Miraculously, eight of them have agreed to hand over their bandwidth. Another issue is that the FCC license is only good for six months, although they would probably entertain an extension given the circumstances. Finally, the dual ownership of the Virgin Islands makes the situation even more complicated, as X must agree not to infringe upon the wireless coverage footprint of the British Virgin Islands.

Via r/Futurology

18 thoughts on “Project Loon Will Float LTE to Puerto Rico

  1. It took long anuff.
    At least they can get started. Even if it is with one hand tied behind there back and one eye.
    Good luck on this.
    And I really hope this works.
    But people need this infrastructure in emergencies faster, A heck of a lot faster.

  2. OK Kristina, they got the GREEN light a while ago. What are they waiting for? The cell signal will be very WIDE and service most of Caribbean INCLUDING Cuba. Is that why they are waiting to implement Project Loon? And how will cell phone recharging be implemented? I know they will be downloading firmware updates to update phones. But what about FREE Solar Cell rechargers? I think we need a better response for these natural-borne US Citizens.

    1. That’s probably going to be the big problem. I’m sure the Project Loon balloons are tethered and strong, but there’s an airborne DHS radar in Puerto Rico that operates in a similar manner, and it has problems all the time.

      To be fair, I imagine a radar is much more sensitive to wind motion than a radio tower, but I know a fair portion of it’s down time is due to concerns of strong wind blowing the thing away.

  3. How can this possibly be more efficacious than deploying a fleet of C.O.W. (cell on wheels) sites? These are available from a variety of commercial suppliers, are designed for exactly this purpose, have experienced installation and maintenance teams already, etc. And they don’t require a software update on phones either. (Maybe Houston or Florida grabbed ’em all?)

    This smells so much like a PR stunt and opportunistic field trial by X.

    1. COW sounds like a much better alternative to me as well. They are going to lose the balloons the minute a strong storm comes through… Sounds like a ‘loony’ idea to me, a solution looking for a problem.

    1. Yis, because if you’ve got an ounce of common sense, instead of checking facebook, you’ll be looking up field expedient methods of purifying water and arranging sanitation.

      1. Or, you know, maybe use the communications tools to *communicate* – arrange local logistics, make sure things are getting places where they’re needed, organize your neighbors, rebuild the community. That sort of thing. Even Facebook isn’t wrong to use for that at a time like this (though I would wish the bandwidth go somewhere more efficient than that example).

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