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May 18, 2017updated 11 Jul 2017 4:00pm

Balloons help Peruvians access the internet when disaster struck

Alphabet, Google’s parent company, with help from Spanish telecoms giant Telefonica, has provided internet to thousands of people in Peru for the last 12 weeks.

As part of the connectivity initiative, known as Project Loon, balloons carrying a small box of equipment beam internet access to a wide area below.

Over the course of three months, the balloons provided 160GB of data to tens of thousands of users, enough to send and receive 30m WhatsApp messages, or 2m emails.

“So the thing about stratosphere balloons is they’re 20km above us, and they’re way above a lot of the chaos that goes on down on the ground,” Sal Candido, a Project Loon engineer, told the BBC.

Alphabet first trialled Project Loon in January when serious flooding hit the South American country, connecting Peruvians in three of the areas worst affected.

Since then, ten times the usual amount of rain has fallen on Peru’s coast, killing over 100 people, displacing 158,000 and damaging 210,000 homes.

“The company focused on bringing the best connectivity support in these emergency situations, especially in the most affected areas,” said Telefonica’s Dennis Fernandez. It was a complex logistical challenge to attend all the needs in those extreme circumstances.

Project Loon faces competition from other tech giants providing internet from the skies.

Facebook has designed solar-panelled aeroplane to bring internet access to parts of sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

The Project Loon balloons remain in place in Peru.

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