A pair of Project Loon balloons are now providing LTE coverage in Puerto Rico using Band 8 on the 900 MHz spectrum. Image: Project Loon

Alphabet’s Project Loon announced on Friday that they had launched their air balloons into the air from Nevada to bring LTE emergency service to AT&T devices in Puerto Rico.

The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria more than a month ago, and the wireless carrier continues to work to reestablish cellular connections for all 3 million people. X, a division dedicated to developing ‘moonshot’ projects at Alphabet, offered their help with Project Loon.

These internet beaming balloons can be deployed quickly and cover large areas as they beam down wireless internet service to communities in need or remote locations with no coverage. Earlier this year, the initiative worked successfully in Peru to help flood victims communicate with others again.

AT&T and the government worked hard to bring fast relief

Amid controversy surrounding the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and their attempts to bring down net neutrality regulation, the government entity issued an exclusive permit earlier this month for Project Loon to operate in Puerto Rico.

At the time, Alphabet expressed their gratitude and readiness to help but stated that it was essential for their balloons to count with the support of wireless mobile carriers on the island. AT&T workforces have been hard at work on the island and they restored service for 60% of Puerto Rico.

An emergency cannot wait and, thus, Project Loon partnered up with AT&T to use their signal and retransmit it from the stratosphere. X says this is the first time they have deployed balloons this fast, and that new algorithms will keep them afloat above the island as wind currents continue to carry them away.

Apple helped too by enabling iPhones to connect to balloons

There is a catch to Project Loon, though, and that is that the signals they beam down are in the LTE Band 8. This band supports frequencies in the 900 MHz range, and are not activated nor licensed in the United States nor in Puerto Rico by government agencies.

Regardless of this fact, this spectrum has recently been approved for use, and Alphabet is taking advantage of it. The downside is that it only works with newer phones, given that older phones need cellular settings updates to enjoy LTE service.

This is exactly where Apple stepped in, and issued a quick update for iPhones starting from the 5C and later running iOS 10. The update will download immediately once it connects to either AT&T’s ground LTE or Project Loon’s redirected signal.

AT&T also restored 90% of its towers and service in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but 30% of Puerto Ricans remain without access to any sort of electric power or drinking water.

Source: Project Loon