Summits Yellow

Alphabet's Project Loon to provide Puerto Rico with mobile service via balloon

Tim Maytom

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has given experimental approval to Alphabet's Project Loon, enabling it to attempt to provide cellular service to Puerto Rico's citizens through specially designed balloons.

Project Loon was announced in 2013, and has seen Google engineers develop solar-powered, high-altitude balloons intended to provide internet service in remote regions inaccessible by traditional broadband.

The deployment in Puerto Rico hopes to "support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability", according to the FCC filing. In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico has struggled with limited communications services, with 83 per cent of mobile sites still out of service, and network providers deploying temporary sites to boost coverage.

On Friday, FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that he was forming a Hurricane Recovery Task Force, aimed at addressing the challenges facing Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the wake of the recent hurricanes.

"It is critical that we adopt a coordinated and comprehensive approach to support the rebuilding of communications infrastructure and restoration of communications services," said Pai in a statement.

Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla, has said that he plans to send staff to Puerto Rico to help restore power to the island after Hurricane Maria devastated its power grid. He has also reportedly sent hundreds of solar power batteries to the island to provide emergency support.