When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands last month, much of the infrastructure was damaged, along with access to basic supplies like food and water. Reports mention that 83% people in the region lack cellular reception. Last week we had reported that Puerto Rico had less than 10% electricity and making electricity available to many households could take months. Fortunately Alphabet, Google’s parent company has been cleared to help in restoring wireless services to the country.
According to TechCrunch, USA’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai said it is necessary to take innovative approaches to restore connectivity. That’s where Project Loon comes in.
Developed by X, a part of Alphabet’s group, Project Loon is a network of high altitude balloons that are super pressurized to handle over 100 days in the stratosphere. These balloons “ride the wind” to get to their destinations.
Loon was used in Peru earlier this year when severe floods disrupted networks. There were also tests conducted in New Zealand. The team plans to replicate their success. Speaking to TechCrunch, Libby Leahy, a spokesperson for X said that to deliver signal to people’s devices, Loon needs to be integrated with a telco partner’s network. Signals are transmitted directly to any LTE enabled device after being routed through local carriers. The balloons are raised and lowered to altitudes where winds blow in the desired direction.
Facebook had dispatched a “connectivity team” to help in restoring emergency telecommunications, along with AT&T and T-Mobile who have set up portable communication sites.
The disaster ridden islands are in dire need of essential supplies. Earlier last week, Tesla had shipped Powerwall batteries to help in power shortages and the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello also had a chat with Elon Musk on upgrading the existing electricity grid.According to a report on USA Today, 22 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities had no functioning cell sites at all. Throughout the US territory over 80% of cell sites were out of service.