Loon seeks STA for balloon tests with Band 20 capability at Winnemucca facility

Project Loon (Loon)
A Loon balloon in flight over Nevada. (Loon)

Loon is asking the FCC to approve its Special Temporary Authority (STA) application so that it can conduct tests within a portion of LTE Band 20 in the area immediately surrounding its launch facility in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Specifically, the Loon balloons with directional antennas will be positioned over the proposed test area and used to relay communications between handsets on the ground, according to the application. Loon said it will use ordinary, FCC-approved handsets to communicate with the balloons and then Wi-Fi to interconnect with the ground terminals.

Frequencies to be used in the experiment include 791-806 MHz and 824-835 MHz. Loon initially asked for a start time of Feb. 6 but revised that to start tests on Feb. 16 at the FCC’s request to provide enough time for processing. The test period would last until Aug. 15.

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Last October, Loon was granted FCC authorization to support licensed mobile carriers’ restoration efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. As part of that effort, it was launching balloons from its facility in Nevada and navigating them to Puerto Rico.

RELATED: Project Loon delivers basic internet to 100K in Puerto Rico

By November, it had delivered basic internet service to more than 100,000 people in Puerto Rico, collaborating with AT&T and T-Mobile. At the time, Project Loon coordinators explained that the service works with LTE devices that support Band 8.

While Loon has come a long way in a relatively short time, Project X leaders still make a point to emphasize that Loon remains an early stage technology and the Puerto Rico deployment marked the first time it’s been used in the U.S.  

In its current application, which contains no mention of Puerto Rico, Loon explains that its experimental end user wireless devices would operate at power levels consistent with Band 8 in the European Union. “Loon is advised that this may include a temporarily update to the software on the device through an Over the Air (OTA) update to allow Band 20 operation,” the company said.

Loon has the ability to terminate transmissions if the platforms exit the test area; the platforms will continue to contain a GPS receiver, and if the receiver detects that the platform has exited the test area, it will automatically disable transmissions over the test frequencies, according to the filing.