Networking

AT&T to deliver gigabit wireless internet on power lines with new Project AirGig

A new project from AT&T is experimenting with delivering wireless internet with gigabit speeds on power lines. Project AirGig is expected to start field trials in 2017.

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Image: AT&T

Project AirGig, a new initiative from AT&T unveiled Tuesday, could one day bring multi-gigabit wireless internet to your home, piggybacked on an existing piece of city infrastructure—power lines. While still merely an experiment, an AT&T blog post said it will be "easier to deploy than fiber," and that they are seeing positive test results.

The technology comes from AT&T's innovation arm, AT&T Labs. AT&T's post said that the firm has more than 100 patents locked down for AirGig, and it's potential that it could extend beyond the US into other countries.

"The results we've seen from our outdoor labs testing have been encouraging, especially as you think about where we're heading in a 5G world," John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president for Technology and Operations at AT&T, said in the blog post. "To that end, we're looking at the right global location to trial this new technology next year."

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Project AirGig relies on modulated radio signal sent "around or near medium-voltage power lines," the post said. Since there's no need to tap into the electrical connection in the power line, it could deliver these speeds to more areas, including, as noted by AT&T in its post, "underserved parts of the world."

This new technology also leverages new antennas, designed by AT&T, that would sit on top of the power lines and help deliver the signal.

"As part of Project AirGig, AT&T Labs invented low-cost plastic antennas and devices located along the power line to regenerate millimeter wave (mmWave) signals that can be used for 4G LTE and 5G multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments," the post said.

AT&T also pointed out that it believes this technology could help foster the growth of the smart grid and related applications, and could help with service issues. However, the bigger deal here is that this project, if successful, could potentially solve many of the problems associated with gigabit internet.

Most people are familiar with gigabit internet through efforts like Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS. The problem is that many of these business units rely on access to physical fiber optic cable. That means that, when seeking to deploy in a new city that doesn't have existing fiber infrastructure, companies like Google or Verizon need to hang or bury new cable to provide the service. This gets especially tricky when individual fiber needs to be delivered to each home.

"Project AirGig delivers this last-mile access without any new fiber-to-the-home and it is flexible enough to be configured with small cells or distributed antenna systems," the post said. "No need to build new towers. No need to bury new cables in the ground."

So, AT&T could save time and money in its gigabit deployments with this new technology. However, other companies have caught on. Starry, for example, launched its bid to deliver gigabit internet over the air in January, and in August, Google looked to boost its wireless broadband efforts.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. AT&T Project AirGig uses power lines to deliver gigabit wireless internet, which could boost the firm's deployments of high speed internet.
  2. Project AirGig relies on new antennas that sit on top of the power lines and do not require any extra burying or hanging of fiber optic cable.
  3. Other companies have looked to wireless gigabit recently, including Google and Starry.

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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