Two years ago, AT&T announced that it was working on a technology to send wireless internet signals along power lines using a technology that potentially could deliver gigabit-plus speeds anyplace utilities distribute electricity. Yesterday, the company said that it not only is still working on “Project AirGig,” but that it foresees the technology providing backhaul data feeding 5G networks in rural America.
"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. We can see something like AirGig delivering tremendous benefits in helping to solve for the digital divide in Georgia,” said Paul Bowers, CEO, Georgia Power, which has been providing power lines for AT&T to conduct field trials.
The company did not announce a commercial launch date for AirGig. The next step, it said, would be additional field trials, part of which would seek ways to integrate the technology with 5G networks. A multi-gigabit wireless conduit along power lines in extremely remote areas could be an ideal link to distant backbone fiber optic networks. It could make 5G applications, such as autonomous vehicle operation, feasible even in very low-population areas.
The AirGig plan, as AT&T explained in 2016, is to use millimeter wave radio signals (above 24 GHz) to travel along powerlines. Radios on the power lines would regularly refresh the signal as it travels. The technology differs from earlier broadband over powerline (BPL) technologies, which traveled with the current. BPL signal leakage slowed in data rates dramatically over short distances.
"Utilizing AirGig as backhaul starts to change the [rural broadband] economics," said Gordon Mansfield, AT&T VP, Converged Access and Devices in a C/NET article. "It will allow us to extend coverage with higher, broadband types of speeds."