Project Loon was originally intended to provide wide area internet access to underserved parts of the world through the use of those balloon based transceivers. In this case, the use has been modified to serve Puerto Rico, but this is a use where Loon is likely to be successful. It’s based on a series of mobile launchers, and by real-time monitoring of the position and operation of each airborne platform.
The Loon balloons operate in the stratosphere and maintain their location by rising and falling to altitudes where the winds are going in the proper direction. Each Loon platform carries solar powered radios and control equipment, along with batteries to keep the platform powered at night. Each Loon platform is designed to stay airborne for about six months, after which it makes a controlled descent where the electronics and control package can be picked up for reuse or recycling.
The team at Alphabet’s X is quick to point out that Loon is still in its early stages, and that the project won't be operational in Puerto Rico until the wireless companies cooperate in integrating with Loon. The reason it was able to work so quickly in Peru is because Loon had already begun testing with Telefonica, the wireless carrier there. That stage hasn’t happened yet in Puerto Rico. At this point, Alphabet hasn’t said when it expects to begin operations in Puerto Rico.
By now you’ve probably noticed that you can’t depend on cell service during a natural disaster, or for that matter during any kind of area-wide emergency. Cell sites can become overwhelmed quickly, as can the telephone network on which they depend. Yet communications is vital to your organization and to the well-being of your employees. So what can you do?
First, do whatever you can to encourage your employees to become ham radio operators, and do what you can to have your company support amateur radio. While you can’t conduct business over amateur radio, your employees can help see that their communities get emergency communications and health and welfare messages out and information in. This service can be critical during a disaster.
Second, invest in an alternate form of communications. You can buy a satellite phone from Amazon for under $1,000 and a used one for much less. They are the size and shape of a cell phone, they will handle voice calls, text messages and email, Most perform GPS location and some can be programmed with an emergency message and recipient list.
There are two carriers for satellite phones, Inmarsat and Iridium. Both work globally, although Iridium has better coverage in northern latitudes. Both cost about a dollar per minute to use. A few of these from one carrier or the other distributed in your management and senior staff can save your business and maybe your life.
Editor's Note: The headlines and abstracts of this article were updated to reflect that Project Loon is part of Alphabet's X innovation lab.