Hurricane Maria, which tore through Puerto Rico in late September, knocked down 95 percent of the island’s cell towers and electric poles. While cellular telephone and utility companies have been frantically trying to restore the services, approximately 80% of Puerto Rico still has no wireless service or electricity.
On Friday, October 20, X, the innovation laboratory of Google’s parent company Alphabet, helped restore connectivity to a few lucky residents by deploying two of their massive Project Loon balloons. Floating 60,000 feet above the Caribbean islands, they enabled customers of cell phone carrier AT&T to connect to basic text, email and web services. If all goes well, the company plans to send an additional 28 balloons, enough to bring back wireless service to not just the residents of Puerto Rico, but also, the nearby US Virgin Islands that was also impacted by the storms. The balloons, which can provide uninterrupted signals for up to six months, will give cellular companies enough time to repair the ground towers.