Can US balloons and know-how energy Cuba’s uncensored web? –

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Miami (CBS Miami / AP)

Florida Republican Governor Ron DeSantis this week called on President Biden's administration to unveil plans to send the Internet to Cubans via high-altitude balloons if the government blocks access.

Can the internet be delivered by balloon?

OK. For years, Google's parent company Alphabet has been working on completing an Internet balloon division service called Loon. It stopped the project in January and said it wasn't economical.

Before the shutdown, Loon Balloon was serving in the mountains of Kenya through a partnership with local telecommunications company Telkom Kenya. The service also helped provide wireless communications in Puerto Rico under the impact of Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island's cellular network. Loon has partnered with AT&T to make the service available.

How does it work?

The rune balloon was practically a cell phone tower the size of a tennis court. They floated 60,000-75,000 feet, or 18,000-23,000 meters, or 18-22 kilometers above the routes of commercial aircraft. The balloon was made of ordinary plastic-polyethylene, used solar panels to generate electricity, and could work with a local telecommunications company to operate smartphones.

According to the company, each balloon can serve thousands of people. However, due to the harsh conditions of the stratosphere, it had to be replaced every five months. And the balloon can be difficult to control. “Navigating balloons in the stratosphere has always been difficult,” wrote Roon's Chief Technology Officer, Salvatore Candido, in a December 2020 blog post. The company has developed an algorithm to track wind patterns.

What equipment did you need?

Mr. Rune said that beyond the balloon itself, network integration with telecommunications would be required to provide services and some equipment locally in the area. It also required approval from local regulators. It is unlikely to be approved by the Cuban government.

Can you set up a network remotely?

OK. Loon used several balloons to extend the connection beyond the required ground connection. In a test in 2018, Loon said the compound jumped seven balloons 1,000 kilometers, or about 620 miles. It also bridges over 600 km of wireless connectivity between the two balloons. Cuba and Florida are only 160 kilometers apart and are the closest to each other.

Is it doable?

However, experts are not sure whether it is that easy to build a guerrilla internet service for Cuba this way. Sending connections to Cuba requires an unused spectral band or radio frequency, and use of the spectrum is usually controlled by the national government. Jacob Sharony of Mobius Consulting, a cellular and cellular consulting firm, says anyone who tries this will have to find a free block with uninterrupted spectrum.

Tim Farrar of TMF Associates, a satellite communications consultant, said balloon or drone-powered networks are likely to be inefficient in the long run. It is suitable for bridging communication in disaster or war zones, but the transmission capacity of such networks is not great. “It is certainly not enough to serve the entire population of Cuba,” said Farah.

Another challenge: the Cuban government could also try to block the signal.

Who is involved in the Cuban initiative?

De Santis is promoting balloon ideas on Thursday with two Cuban-American lawmakers from the Miami area, Maria Salazar and Carlos Guimenez, FCC commissioner Brendan Carr and Cuban-American lawyer, businessman and museum director Marcel Felipe. Have.

Felipe said he had been in talks for about two years with a defense contractor who could cost-effectively deploy such balloons in airspace near Cuba, but would not divulge the name of the company. Felipe said his idea was to send an internet connection directly to the island's mobile phone without the involvement of a land provider. In a comment to the Associated Press, Felipe cited no evidence, but argued that it was impossible for the Cuban government to “significantly” block the signals provided by these balloons.

None of the supporters made a cost offer. Salazar said he believes that if the federal government approves the plan, it will be fully funded with donations from members of the Cuban diaspora if necessary.

What is Cuba's Internet Access?

Internet access in Cuba is expensive and, until recently, was relatively rare. Since December 2018, Cubans have been able to access the Internet by phone via the state telecommunications monopoly. More than half of Cubans today have internet access.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, the Cuban government has restricted and censored independent media what Cubans can use online. It blocks internet access to thwart protests.


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