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Balloon navigation breakthrough helps extend cell service in Puerto Rico

A balloon launches from Nevada on its way to Puerto Rico.

Enlarge / A balloon launches from Nevada on its way to Puerto Rico. (credit: X)

One of Puerto Ricans’ most basic needs in the wake of Hurricane Maria is communication with the outside world. Cell phone companies on the island are still working to repair infrastructure after the hurricane took 95 percent of the island’s cell phone towers out of service.

So X, Alphabet’s company devoted to technological “moonshots,” is sending a fleet of balloons to serve as cell phone towers in the sky. “We are now collaborating with AT&T to deliver emergency Internet service to the hardest hit parts of the island,” writes Alastair Westgarth, who leads the company’s balloon-based Internet efforts.

The idea of providing Internet service via balloons sounds crazy—indeed it has sounded crazy since Google first announced the effort, dubbed Project Loon, in 2013. But Google—now X—is deadly serious about making balloon-powered Internet access a real thing.
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