UPDATE With communication service in Puerto Rico returning to normal levels, Project Loon plans to “wind down” its service to the island. Project Loon, which belongs to Alphabet moonshot company X, tweeted thanks to partners like AT&T, “who made it possible to deliver basic connectivity” to 200,000 people over the last few months. Project Loon worked with the government of Puerto Rico, the FCC, FAA, FEMA, spectrum partners and international aviation authorities on the project, Inside Towersreported.
Project Loon floats high-altitude balloons up to 12 miles above ground to deliver internet connectivity to rural areas. The company believes the service would provide communications to more people for less money than providing base stations and laying fiber.
A change in how it flies balloons made its service to Puerto Rico possible, forming balloon clusters and keeping them tightly over an area. Salvatore Candido is the principal engineer for Project Loon, who led development of the balloon navigation system. He told IEEE Spectrum, each balloon has a solar-powered pump that moves it up or down by adding or releasing air. That way, balloons can move in and out of winds in the stratosphere.
The project and any results are considered experimental, so Project Loon declined to provide data rates that Puerto Ricans could access through their service. It provided email and text messaging services to the island.
It’s also not public how many balloons were used, other than each balloon can cover more than 1,930 square miles. The island is roughly 3,474 square miles. “We had a handful of balloons down there and we were able to keep them mostly over the island,” Candido told IEEE Spectrum.