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AT&T Labs Testing Wireless Autobahn-Like Broadband Speeds over Power Lines

AT&T Labs Testing Wireless Autobahn-Like Broadband Speeds over Power Lines

On September 20, 2016 AT&T Labs announced, Project AirGig, which they termed as a transformative technology that may one day deliver inexpensive multi-gigabit wireless broadband via electric power lines. “Project AirGig has tremendous potential to transform internet access globally – well beyond our current broadband footprint and not just in the United States,” said John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president, Technology and Operations, AT&T. 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. No need to build new towers. No need to bury new cables in the ground.

AT&T is testing the deployment of patent-pending low-cost plastic antennas and devices that are located along the power lines to transport high-speed millimeter wave (mmWave) signals.

The primary advantage of the AT&T Labs approach is that by piggy-backing off the existing electric lines, they can deploy new services very inexpensively and very quickly since the infrastructure is already in place.

The concept of using electric power lines to deliver broadband internet to a home or business is not new . Powerline communication technology (PLC) was a hot topic of discussion in the early 2000’s when the commercial and residential internet adoption rate was increasing exponentially. The thought of using the existing electrical infrastructure to deliver bandwidth beyond dial-up was so appealing but over time the technology proved to be unstable delivering inconsistent quality for the early adopters. Julie Kunstler, principal analyst for telecommunications at Ovum, said PLC was not infallible in terms of connection quality in the first place. “You could get connected [to the Web], but the connection wouldn’t always be good or stable. “Powerlines were never made to handle communications. Think about it, you’re asking the electric network to handle communications [besides] electricity ,” she pointed out.

So what’s AT&T Labs secret? Rather than transmitting signals inside the electrical currents flowing through the power lines they are transmitting signals alongside the exterior of the power lines. AT&T Labs is merely using the power lines as an Autobahn Motorway to transport and regenerate high-speed wireless signals.

Field trials are expected to commence in 2017.

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Randall Smith – 1stel Marketing Analyst
rsmith@1stel.com

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