FCC grants Alphabet, Google’s parent company, the Special Temporary Authority license to experiment with Project Loon in Puerto Rico, to provide cell reception to victims of hurricane Maria.
Project Loon is a product of Google X, the company’s innovation lab. Essentially, the project is launching giant balloons that float in the stratosphere, beaming down telecommunication signals.
“The purpose of the STA (Special Temporary Authority) is to support licensed mobile carriers’ restoration of limited communications capability in areas of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands affected by Hurricanes Irma and Maria,” reads the official certification.
While increased communication abilities will definitely help the affected people in Puerto Rico, the aim of Loon is not to be a gap fill service during times of crisis in perpetuity.
In an interview with Mobile World Live, Alastair Westgarth, who heads the project, stated that while “helping out is important, it’s not the reason we exist” and made reference to his expectations that the project will sell commercial services in the future.
Westgarth also claimed that the project will be gaining monetary traction in the next few years, but stressed that Google has no plan to own an ISP.
“We exist to build a durable business model, and underneath that if we can help people and on occasion provide relief during a strenuous situation, a disaster situation, that’s great,” he said.
While Project Loon currently seems like the fastest and cheapest development in the field of off-ground LTE beaming, other companies such as Space X, Samsung and Oneweb have been working on more long-term solutions for the technology.
The main bottleneck slowing down the development of the aforementioned projects is the FCC, which is directed by Ajit Pai, the main cause behind the net neutrality fiasco. He’s also the main reason behind the delay for Elon Musk’s space constellation launch.
That being said, if Project Loon finally got the green light, things might soon start looking better for similar projects by competitors we hope.