Apple and AT&T activate LTE Band 8 to give iPhone users in Puerto Rico cellular service by Loon Balloon

Apple, AT&T, the FCC and Alphabet’s X division have all put into motion efforts to give residents of Puerto Rico more cellular connectivity.

Apple has been working with AT&T to extend and activate cell service for users in Puerto Rico. To improve what is a terrible connectivity situation there, it’s going to enable a provisional band of LTE that has been recently approved, but not activated in the US and Puerto Rico, where it has not been licensed. This will allow iPhones to connect to Alphabet X’s Project Loon balloons in the region, which were activated today.

This should allow users to send text messages and access some critical online services.

Because LTE is not licensed on Band 8, many phones have not yet been equipped for use with it, though some newer radios are able to connect to it and use it. Apple devices from the iPhone 5c and up and running iOS 10 or higher can download a carrier setting and begin using it right away.

LTE Band 8 is a 900Mhz band, which means that it has much improved range over lower frequency bands. This will help devices reach further cell towers, distribute the load among those now accessible towers and penetrate buildings and other obstructions better.

Apple says that users will be prompted to download the carrier settings this week. The service is already live.

“We are working with AT&T to activate cellular service for iPhone users in Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria,” read an Apple statement. “Apple engineers have created a special carrier settings update which users connected to Wi-Fi or who are connected to a cellular network will automatically be prompted to download throughout the week. The update allows iPhone customers with iPhone 5c and later models running iOS 10 or higher, to connect to a provisional band on the AT&T network so they can be in touch with loved ones and get services in this time of need.”

To get the new carrier settings on an iPhone, go to Settings>General>About now. You will need to have either WiFi or a cellular connection to grab the file. Once it’s installed, your iPhone will automatically take advance of Band 8 LTE where available.

Though much of Puerto Rico is still without power, this should enable the currently operating cell towers to serve more users at a greater distance. LTE band 8 was recently approved by the FCC for use there. And, with many cell towers down, people will also still be able to connect to Google’s Project Loon balloons that are deployed in Puerto Rico.  The Loon deployment was detailed in a  breakdown by Project Loon head Alastair Westgarth today here.

Some Android devices from Samsung and others should be compatible with Band 8 LTE, but all LTE devices are compatible with Project Loon.

AT&T says that it has connected more than 60% of the population in Puerto Rico and 90% of the population in the UI.S. Virgin Islands. It’s deployed 17 portable network points including 14 temporary cell cites so far.