For about two years, AT&T has been working on its Project AirGig, which uses electric power lines to string broadband internet equipment. Today, Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and CTO, said AT&T has applied for more than 500 patents for AirGig and conducted field trials both in and outside the United States.
“In order to take the next step towards commercial deployment, we’ve initiated discussions with technology suppliers to start testing and building commercial-grade Project AirGig equipment,” according to an AT&T statement.
AT&T still hasn’t set a date for commercial deployment of AirGig. But it says in 2019 it plans to expand field trials with its unnamed technology suppliers.
For Project AirGig, AT&T Labs invented items like low-cost plastic antennas, a radio distributed antenna system (RDAS), millimeter wave (mmWave) surface wave launchers, and inductive power devices.
The RDAS reconstructs signals for multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments. With RDAS, AT&T can deliver not just broadband, but also mobile traffic. The mmWave surface wave launchers can power themselves via inductive power devices without a direct electrical connection. These devices then create a high-speed signal that travels along or near the wire – not through it.
In 2017, AT&T launched a trial of Project AirGig technology with Georgia Power in which it provided a fixed wireless application to a number of participating homes. It used a combination of mmWave and LTE spectrum.
For the Georgia Power trial, AT&T installed plastic antenna prototypes along utility poles and observed no degradation of the mmWave signals during rain and other weather events. The system delivered hundreds of megabits per second to a number of residential locations in a rural part of the state. Residential trial participants used self-install receiver equipment, which allowed them to access high speed internet within 10 minutes.
Georgia Power sees some benefit in Project AirGig as well. Georgia Power CEO Paul Bowers said, “The potential ability to also use this technology to supplement our own energy operations and controls, such as with remote weather monitoring systems, is exciting.”
AT&T executives have indicated that Project AirGig could be an answer to the company’s backhaul needs. Speaking at a Wells Fargo 5G Forum in June, Scott Mair, senior vice president of planning and engineering at AT&T, said that AirGig has the capability of producing multiple gigabit speeds. “It will be a good use case for backhaul, fronthaul, small cells, and any other transmission where aerial is possible,” he said.
Finally, AirGig may play into AT&T’s 5G ambitions. In today’s announcement, AT&T said it is also exploring another field trial in which it will focus on aspects of surface-wave systems, which could provide an important ingredient in 5G.