October 9, 2017 // 10:09 a.m.
Google's parent company Alphabet has been granted an experimental licence to run its Project Loon balloon-based telecommunications platform in the skies of Puerto Rico as the region seeks to rebuild its infrastructure following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.
Having been trialled in Indonesia in 2016, Project Loon is being seen as a way to quickly restore a communications network to disaster-struck regions. Part of Google owner Alphabet's efforts to grow its user base by bringing connectivity to regions currently disconnected and originally developed for rural regions, Project Loon involves the use of weather balloons to float mesh networking devices above the region to be connected. Each balloon can talk to any other balloon, and users on the ground are free to connect to the nearest balloon offering the strongest signal. Traffic is then routed from balloon to balloon before reaching the nearest balloon with an uplink to a wider network.
'More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, millions of Puerto Ricans are still without access to much-needed communications services,' explains US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai in a statement to press on following the granting of a experimental licence to Alphabet. 'That’s why we need to take innovative approaches to help restore connectivity on the island. Project Loon is one such approach. It could help provide the people of Puerto Rico with access to cellular service to connect with loved ones and access life-saving information. I’m glad the FCC was able to grant this experimental license with dispatch and I urge wireless carriers to cooperate with Project Loon to maximize this effort’s chances of success.'
The news follows discussions between Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló and Tesla founder Elon Musk regarding a project to ship the company's solar panels and energy storage systems to the region in order to quickly rebuild the damaged national power grid and restore power to its citizens.