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Alphabet’s Balloons Will Float Data Into Puerto Rico

October 9, 2017

The island’s battered telecom network is going to be resuscitated from the sky. The Federal Communications Commission has given Alphabet’s X lab permission to launch 30 of its stratospheric Project Loon balloons to heights of 12.5 miles above Puerto Rico. The inflatables will provide voice calls and data to locals who are currently without, since Hurricanes Irma and Maria destroyed much of the island’s telecoms infrastructure.

Just because it has permission to launch, though, doesn’t mean that Puerto Ricans will be making calls right away. As Wired notes, X will need to work with local telecom firms to get cellular provision up and running, and, on the ground, some handsets may need software updates to make use of the service. Still, if successful, it's thought that the 30 balloons should be able to provide the entire island with a connection—perhaps even with enough spare capacity to connect parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands, too.

You can read more about how Project Loon works in our write-up from when we named it one of our 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2015.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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