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Alphabet's Project Loon officially launched in Puerto Rico

21 October 2017

Project Loon and AT&T are now allowing residents with LTE smartphones to carry out basic communication and internet activities, like sending texts and accessing information online. It is yet to be seen how well Project Loon's balloon-based Internet delivery will work, but it will no doubt provide the team will information they need to refine and improve their product over time. The only downside to the project is the balloons are solar-powered, so Internet connectivity is only available during daylight hours. It will keep the internet-beaming balloons in areas that need connectivity for as long as possible. Now, Google has officially announced Alphabet's Project Loon in Puerto Rico to provide internet to the affected regions.

AT&T spokesman Jeffrey Kobs said the company has set up 14 temporary cell sites, and as of Friday more than 60 percent of the population was connected via mobile network, in part due to the help of humanitarian and government groups and Project Loon.

"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", wrote Alastair Westgarth, Head of Project Loon, in a blog post. This is not the first time that the Project Loon division has deployed balloons to deliver to Internet connectivity, though this is the most rapid deployment from scratch.

Two weeks after Hurricane Irma slammed into the Caribbean islands, a second super-storm - Maria - devastated the United States territory on September 20, leaving the population of 3.4 million people without electricity or cellphone reception. Apple engineers have created a special carrier settings update which users connected to Wi-Fi or who are connected to a cellular network will automatically be prompted to download throughout the week.

The balloons can stay in the stratosphere for more than a hundred days and each Loon can provide data transmission over a 100 kilometer range, according to the project's website. This isn't the first time Project Loon balloons have been used to restore basic communications following a disaster - that distinction goes to the team's work in Peru past year following extensive flooding.