As part of its advanced networking research — and its race to 5G — AT&T is working on technology that could transmit wireless signals over power lines. AT&T Labs unveiled its Project AirGig that has the potential to deliver multi-gigabit broadband speeds over license-free spectrum.
The carrier is “deep in the experimentation phase” of the technology that would be a lot easier to deploy than fiber. It’s been testing the technology at AT&T outdoor facilities and expects to conduct initial field trials in 2017.
The researchers are experimenting with multiple ways to send a modulated radio signal around or near medium-voltage power lines. There’s no direct electrical connection to the power line required.
It could deliver last-mile access without any new fiber to premises. And it can be configured with small cells or distributed antenna systems without having to build new towers.
In February, AT&T released a skeletal template of its 5G plans. At that time there was speculation that mmWave could be used in place of fiber in a distributed 5G architecture. The short range of millimeter waves can only be used for communication over about a kilometer. But the AT&T plastic antennas might be able to leverage mmWave along the power lines.
Today, AT&T’s CEO Randall Stephenson said at a Goldman Sachs Communacopia conference, “We’ll deploy 5G in some of the existing spectrum. But obviously millimeter wave is going to be important to us as well.”
Project AirGig could also provide an industrial Internet of Things (IoT) application to benefit utility companies, allowing them to detect power line problems. And it could support utility companies’ meter and usage control systems.
“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 at AT&T, in a statement. “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.”