Alphabet‘s Project Loon might still be experimental in nature, but it just delivered real hope to 100,000 Puerto Rico residents in what the Project Loon team called the fastest deployment of its Internet-providing balloons ever.
Head of Project Loon Alastair Westgarth confirmed the deployment of the balloons over part of the hurricane-ravaged island in a recent blog post, saying that they launched from Nevada and are hovering over “the hardest hit parts of [Puerto Rico].” According to Westgarth, the Project Loon team is collaborating with AT&T and T-Mobile to provide 100,000 of the island’s residents with emergency Internet service:
Working with AT&T and T-Mobile, Project Loon is now supporting basic communication and Internet services like sending text messages and accessing information online for some people with LTE-enabled phones.
This is a new venture for the Project Loon team, since this is the first time they have utilized machine learning powered algorithms to keep the balloons clustered over Puerto Rico. Westgarth also admitted that the team is unsure how well these balloons will work or how long they will remain over Puerto Rico, so there remains some uncertainty regarding their effectiveness and longevity.
Even so, this is the fastest that the Project Loon team has ever created and deployed balloons, which is certainly promising for the future of Alphabet’s experiment. Keep in mind that the team needed to wait until the FCC gave its blessing in early October, so it took them less than two weeks to make this possible.
There is still plenty of work to be done, with the FCC reporting today that almost 44 percent of cell sites on Puerto Rico are out of service. According to the agency, the majority of the island’s counties have between 20 and 60 percent of non-functioning cell sites. With Puerto Rico’s population standing at almost 3.5 million people, that is a significant number of people without any wireless service, but at least with the Project Loon news, some can finally get back online.