Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico decimated in Sept of 2017. While recovery efforts are underway the island still faces many challenges to truly getting things up and running. Emergency organizations, governments, and private businesses are all pitching in to get the island's recovery efforts moving forward. Google has offered to help bring the hurricane battered island some help in their communication infrastructure using a pretty awesome approach. How is Google helping Puerto Rico's communication needs? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to find out.
Like most things in life communication is very important. Regardless of making shopping plans or fixing up an entire island that was hit by extreme weather, communication is key. One of the most vital needs to plan and implement recovery efforts is the ability to communicate. Keep in mind supplies need to be ordered, workers need to be surveyed, and the daily needs of everyone there have to be shared among a large group of individuals. Over 75% of Puerto Rico's cellular towers are still offline making it very difficult and in some cases near impossible to communicate with loved ones, friends, or even emergency workers. Emergency workers noted the immediate need for better communication infrastructure. This is where Google comes in.
Google has begun work on getting LTE cellular service back to the over 3.5 million Americans living in Puerto Rico and parts of the Virgin Islands. To do this Google is going to float a network of helium balloons 65,000 feet in the air to blanket the region below with cell service, this undertaking is called Project Loon. These hurricane battered areas will be the next location for Project Loon which has already been used in disaster relief in many other countries. This project made headlines earlier in the year when it was used to bring internet to the flooded areas of Peru. Similar projects through Google have helped folks in France, Brazil, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka among others.
In the past these floating cell towers have been able to facilitate the transfer of about 160 GB worth of data. That's enough to send about 30 million What's App messages or 2 million emails. Even more impressive is that they can cover an area the size of Sweden. Puerto Rico is significantly smaller so these balloons should be able to provide ample coverage as teams work around the clock to deal with recovery and restoration efforts.
The next step here is getting Project Loon technology and coding to integrate and function with the telecom partners and providers on the ground. If everything goes as planned Google would be able to provide this service through the initial recovery efforts from now till April 2018.
These regions will still face years of rebuilding, but Google's floating cell towers would at least make urgent communication infrastructure one less thing that's left in the air.