Google balloons to help restore Puerto Rico's cell networks

Google balloons to help restore Puerto Rico's cell networks

Tesla CEO Elon Musk often takes to Twitter to mull over ideas, but on Friday his musings about sending his company's solar-powered batteries to help restore Puerto Rico's power attracted the attention of the island's governor.

Puerto Rico has struggled to regain communications services in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, with 83% of cell sites remaining out of service. With thousands of cell towers decimated by Hurricane Maria, the balloons would provide needed communications for both affected residents and relief efforts.

It's unclear if X has found a telecomm company to partner with in the US territory. The license extends from October 6th until April 4th, 2018, and it was granted to Ben Wojtowicz, a software engineer and member of Alphabet's X lab who works on Project Loon. But that doesn't mean it will able to get them in the air anytime soon.

On Friday night, the FCC announced that it had approved Alphabet, Google's parent company, to provide emergency phone reception to Puerto Rico through the use of balloons.

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But there are limitations, she said Saturday. It had partnered with a telecomm company and was testing balloons.

"The goal of the [Special Temporary Authority] is to support licensed mobile carriers' restoration of limited communications capability in areas of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria", the license reads. As most of the smartphones are not capable of transcoding Band 8 LTE signals, the OEMs are necessarily required to push an OTA update for every smartphone in Puerto Rico.

Much of the ground work is being spearheaded by nonprofit organizations and small firms with expertise in rural or emergency communications.

As communication providers that were impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria continue their recovery effort, the FCC has announced the creation of a Hurricane Recovery Task Force. Aid workers are pairing Vanu's devices with other technology, such as inflatable satellite antennas.

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