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Alphabet's Balloons Will Bring Cellphone Service To Puerto Rico (wired.com) 65

An anonymous reader writes:Hurricanes Irma and Maria wiped out more than 90 percent of the cellphone coverage on Puerto Rico. Now the FCC has given "Project Loon" permission to fly 30 balloons more than 12 miles above the island for the next six months, Wired reports, to temporarily replace the thousands of cellphone towers knocked down by the two hurricanes.

Each balloon can service an area of 1,930 miles, so the hope is to restore service to the entire island of Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. Virgin Islands. In May Project Loon, part of Google's parent company Alphabet, deployed its technology in Peru and later provided emergency internet access there during serious flooding. (Those balloons were acually launched from Puerto Rico.) These new Project Loon balloons will be "relaying communications between Alphabet's own ground stations connected to the surviving wireless networks, and users' handsets," according to the article, which reports that eight wireless carriers in Puerto Rico have already consented to the arrangement.

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Alphabet's Balloons Will Bring Cellphone Service To Puerto Rico

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  • what's the catch? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by sittingnut ( 88521 ) <sittingnut&gmail,com> on Saturday October 07, 2017 @03:51PM (#55328477) Homepage

    or is this just for good public relations/"corporate social responsibility" ?
    sorry if my skepticism about all thing alphabet, and other big techs, offends anyone; i just can't be blind to their past track record.

    btw, given we have been hyped about these balloons for years, why is there no real wide deployments(announced several times in multiple countries) up to now?

    • by Krishnoid ( 984597 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @04:21PM (#55328571) Journal

      or is this just for good public relations/"corporate social responsibility" ?
      sorry if my skepticism about all thing alphabet, and other big techs, offends anyone; i just can't be blind to their past track record.

      I'm sure you're completely correct --

      btw, given we have been hyped about these balloons for years, why is there no real wide deployments(announced several times in multiple countries) up to now?

      it's that the local carriers probably reached the tipping point where allowing another player on the field, was more in their best interest than trying to protect their monopolies in the near absence of infrastructure (including their own).

      If I had to guess, I'd say Google ran Loon as a research-ish project to flush out problems and develop its feasibility. I personally think Google tries to do a lot of good. But if that's not the case, I'll concede that they may be evil; after which to be fair, I'd have to contrast their actions against those of the entire corporate (and governmental) landscape.

    • I would guess that the wireless carriers will pay huge roaming charges to Google until they can fix their own towers. I hope that cost won't be passed on to consumers.

    • Because of inertia and reluctance to leave older, established technologies, it's not often that you get a chance to try out a widescale deployment of a theoretical new technology in a developed nation. Implementing it in some place like Africa wouldn't stress it as much as a developed nation would, so the results and conclusions aren't always applicable to a different market. This is actually a great opportunity for them to do a real-world test of whether this balloon cellular idea works as well as it doe
    • The expected value of goodwill and roaming fees from this outweighs the expected costs associated with patent [wired.com] royalty liabilities and negative goodwill costs for Space Data associated with a lawsuit for this situation?
    • They are doing a good thing. I'm sure that they have some per day costs that they would otherwise charge and will take that as a tax deduction, but still a good thing.

      And I'm not really sure that these things are really made for any permanent installation anywhere, so they are being used to do what they are made specifically for. I' know that groups want to use them long term in places, but I don't see them being cost effective over any long term in most places.

    • i just can't be blind to their past track record.

      What track record are you referring to, specifically?

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      btw, given we have been hyped about these balloons for years, why is there no real wide deployments(announced several times in multiple countries) up to now?

      Probably because they're not that great. Who needs balloon-based data service in non-emergency, non-disaster situations?

    • The catch is they just lost a Loon lawsuit. Google tried to steal technology and patents pretending to be interested in buying out a startup.

      https://www.wired.com/story/th... [wired.com]

      its not the first time Google flat out steals someone elses technology, to the point of being sued for racketeering http://www.mercurynews.com/201... [mercurynews.com]

  • by bogaboga ( 793279 ) on Saturday October 07, 2017 @03:56PM (#55328497)

    ...Each balloon can service an area of 1,930 miles...

    How about

    Each balloon can service an area of 1,930 square miles...

    Bold and additions mine...

  • What say now brown cow? Reminds me of the laser.
  • Just wonder what happens to the ability to communicate when really rough weather comes in?

    Everything works really great in a calm pristine environment. But maybe infrastructure is like coding, it is the exceptions that get you ;)
  • I recall reading this article a few years ago while staying at my sister's place in Merced and wondering if this could be done for PR . . . . I guess it can. Cool. http://www.mercedsunstar.com/n... [mercedsunstar.com]
  • https://slashdot.org/comments.... [slashdot.org]

    Where should I send the invoice?

  • What does it matter WHY?

  • A known spying organization is deploying balloons to help the Puerto Ricans communicate in their time of need. This need is genuine and I'm sure everyone is grateful for the assistance. Therefore this sounds very nice and a good thing to do for any organization. But in light of what Google does with its services (email accounts, blog hosting, phone call proxy/rerouting, etc.) and the article's lack of describing any restrictions on this generous service, I wonder what else will the organization do with the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    In a typical emergency, power will not be restored for atleast a week. During that time phone batteries will die out. We need technology to keep phone alive during that golden (rather critical) period to save lives, contact people, help supply management by/for victims of diaster on large scale. What good is the innovation in latest pixel or powerbank.

  • The plan as described appears to assume the balloons will stay in nearly same lat and long once launched or at least with in line of sight of PR. To find out of this is true or not for Puerto Rico, have a look at earth.net.org specifically over PR at 70 mbar pressure which corresponds roughly to the proposed height of these balloons. https://earth.nullschool.net/#... [nullschool.net] In fact the wind speed at that height is about 20 km/hr. So in 24 hours the balloons will travel about 500 km which is beyond line of site fr
  • Each balloon will, one presumes, be anchored and communicated with by a long cable, right?

    What's to keep all those military and news helicopters and aircraft from running into the cables? They can be quite hard to see, don't you know?

    Big orange balls anchored every 50 feet vertically? Good luck with that.

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