AT&T executives believe the company’s Project AirGig technology, which uses existing power lines to transmit wireless signals rather than using fiber, could be an answer to the company’s backhaul needs.
Speaking at the Wells Fargo 5G Forum today, Scott Mair, senior vice president, 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.
Backhaul is a key component of future 5G networks, and it’s a tricky area for wireless operators because it’s hard to predict traffic patterns for all the wireless connections created by the Internet of Things (IoT). That’s why many operators have been eyeing different types of backhaul solutions beyond fiber.
AirGig is based upon a new technology called radio distributed antenna system (RDAS), and AT&T has 200 patents pending on the technology. RDAS reconstructs signals from multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments. Those data signals are then transmitted using millimeter wave (mmWave) over power lines. The mmWave surface wave launchers and inductive power devices can create a multi-gigabit signal that travels along or near the power line, but not through it.
Mair said that AT&T is prepping for two AirGig field trials that it will conduct this year. Those trials will look at how Project AirGig works in conjunction with smart grid technologies and also will see how it performs during inclement weather like rain, snow, and high winds. The tests will also determine how expensive it is to deploy the technology.
Besides the AirGig trials, Mair also said that AT&T’s 5G trials in Austin, Texas, and Indianapolis, Indiana, are achieving speeds close to 1 Gb/s that are “smoking fast.” He added that in the next two to three weeks, AT&T will begin a 5G trial in Austin that will include multiple locations and devices, as well as different types of customers. In other words, some residential customers as well as some business customers. As part of the trial, the company will be streaming its DirecTV Now service over 5G and using that to better understand capacity and performance characteristics.
Mair noted that AT&T has been contributing to the 3GPP’s 5G standard process and said that the company is the largest contributor to the process by sharing its 5G trial data.
He also reiterated that AT&T will likely launch 5G in late 2018 to early 2019 and he believes that by year-end 2019 there will be 5G available at scale and not just in a few markets.