AT&T plans trials for gigabit internet connections over powerlines

AT&T plans trials for gigabit internet connections over powerlines

AT&T says it is in advanced discussions with power companies about using their lines to deliver gigabit-speed internet connections.

The discussions follow the company’s announcement in September 2016 of Project AirGig technology that, it says, will be easier to deploy than fibre, can run over licence-free spectrum and can deliver ultra-fast wireless connectivity to any home or handheld wireless device.

Now AT&T says it is ready to try out the technology in at least two locations “this fall”. One location will be in the US, implying that one or more may be outside.

“We are looking forward to begin testing the possibilities of AT&T Labs’ invention for customers and utility companies,” said Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and CTO.

“AT&T is focused on delivering a gigabit-per-second speed everywhere we can with our wired and wireless technologies. Project AirGig represents a key invention in our 5G evolution approach.”

He said the technology will be able to bring “multi-gigabit, low-cost internet connectivity anywhere there are power lines – big urban market, small rural town, globally”.

The company has developed Project AirGig from earlier broadband-over-powerlines (BPL) work. The technology worked well, but couldn’t keep up with the move to higher speeds, says AT&T.

Its engineers have developed a radio distributed antenna system (RDAS) using millimetre waves (mmWave). “With the RDAS, we found a system design to effectively deliver not just broadband, but also mobile traffic,” says AT&T.

Because it works inductively, the technology is not directly connected to the powerlines. “These devices create a multi-gigabit signal that travels along or near the wire – not through it,” says AT&T. “This signal means connected experiences become an everyday reality for people – regardless of location.”

AT&T needs to test how the technology is affected by rain, snow and high winds, and it plans to analyse the cost of deployment and the signal quality compared with existing fibre and wireless.

Last year John Donovan, AT&T’s chief strategy officer and group president of technology and operations, said: “Project AirGig has tremendous potential to transform internet access globally … 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.”

Donovan said: “We believe Project AirGig has the potential to quickly bring connectivity to all parts of the world. Our researchers are addressing the challenges that hampered similar approaches a decade ago, such as megabit per second speeds and high deployment costs.”

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