Google gets license for nationwide airborne mmWave testing

The FCC has given Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) the go-ahead to conduct nationwide airborne and terrestrial millimeter wave testing, granting it an experimental license that had sparked informal objections from commenters registering their concerns about health effects and interference.

The grant is effective March 17, 2016, through April 1, 2018, and covers frequencies 71-76 GHz and 81-86 GHz for testing of both airborne and terrestrial transmitters. The FCC says the grant is conditioned on not causing any harmful interference to other commission-authorized operations and Google must abide by FCC RF safety standards.

Google submitted a letter to the FCC in January responding to commenters worried that RF energy from Google's testing could harm humans, animals or plants in the vicinity of the test operations. Google said its proposed experiments in fact "present vastly less risk from RF exposure than other transmissions the Commission routinely authorizes. Thus, although we respect that the commenters' concerns are genuinely held, there is no factual basis for them."

While the documents Google filed with the FCC do not reveal exactly what the tests are for, Business Insider last year reportedly that it almost surely refers to Google's Project Loon project – which involves both airborne and terrestrial transmitting. One of the clues the publication cited was the name on the original application: Astro Teller, Google's Captain of Moonshots, who has been overseeing projects like Loon.

Wireless engineering consultant Steve Crowley, who first spotted the FCC's approval of the grant, posted a blog last year that also notes the Nov. 24 application form states as one mobile operation parameter "airborne max altitude 75,500 ft. AGL," which is consistent with operation by Project Loon balloons or Titan-Aerospace-type drones. Google acquired Titan Aerospace in 2014.

Google has argued in previous FCC filings related to the FCC's Spectrum Frontiers proceeding that the high-frequency bands could be useful for offering broadband access via airborne platforms such as high-altitude balloons or unmanned aerial vehicles where deployment of terrestrial networks is not economical.

Last month, Google gave a rare update on Loon and revealed that after initial testing in Wisconsin, Project Loon sent one of its autolaunchers, named Chicken Little, on a working vacation to Puerto Rico. Googlers described how the balloons are loaded, lifted and set free into the stratosphere. They've now managed to launch the tennis-court-sized balloons in less than 30 minutes. Portable autolaunchers allow engineers to move their operations to places that offer more favorable wind patterns in their quest to provide Internet connectivity around the world.

For more:
- see this filing

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