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Balloon-Powered Internet Arrives In Puerto Rico

Balloon-powered internet from Alphabet's Project Loon is starting to float over Puerto Rico, providing wireless access for certain users on the hurricane-stricken island.

The emergency internet service is being delivered to some AT&T customers with 4G LTE-enabled phones. They'll now have limited connectivity to send text messages, access email or go online to pull up critical information, according to Alphabet.

Earlier this month, U.S. authorities granted permission to Project Loon to fly 30 balloons over Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island and disrupted the local cellular networks.

The hot-air balloons, which were launched from Nevada, float 11 miles above the Earth to create an aerial wireless network that relays data between the telecommunication provider on the ground to the users in need.

Each balloon can cover up to 5,000 square kilometers, and Project Loon is hopeful the network will cover most parts of the island.

"As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible," wrote Alastair Westgarth, Project Loon head.

In addition, wireless carriers including AT&T have been deploying emergency cell services on the ground. That's helped restore telecommunication service to over 60 percent of Puerto Rico's population.

Project Loon is trying to fill some of the remaining gaps. The aerial wireless network will target the hardest hit areas of island and should provide basic internet connectivity during daylight hours. However, the service may be spotty, depending on the wind conditions.

It's unclear if the balloon-powered internet will extend to other wireless carriers. This is the first time it's been deployed at such a rapid place. Project Loon's Westgarth also wrote that his team is unsure how well it'll even work.

Nevertheless, U.S. FCC chairman Ajit Pai was quick to tweet his support.

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