How Internet Balloons Over Puerto Rico Work

November 9, 2017

Reprinted from Popular Science

Balloons from ‘Project Loon’ are now delivering the internet to remote areas of Puerto Rico where cellphone towers were knocked out by Hurricane Maria.

Think of each balloon as a cell tower in the stratosphere, tens of thousands of feet off the ground. They’re not producing Wi-Fi, but are making an LTE signal; each balloon can cover about 1,931 square miles with its signal. But that balloon-internet isn’t enough for someone to stream Stranger Things or even make a phone call. It’s just intended to allow people to do simple tasks like text or check email.

The balloons themselves need to receive that LTE signal from somewhere, and that somewhere is the ground, where both AT&T and T-Mobile are beaming it up. That means two things: you won’t be able to tell that the signal is coming from the sky, and you’ve got to have plans with one of those two carriers in order to use it.

Those balloons themselves are a ghostly white, about the size of a tennis court, and made from polyethylene. They lack engines, but do have solar panels to power the onboard equipment.

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cell towers

Photo Credit: Popular Science