AT&T to Deploy Project AirGig to Deliver Low-Cost, Multi-Gigabit Wireless Internet Speeds

AT&T is in advanced discussions with power companies and others to kickstart Project AirGig in at least two locations by this fall. AirGig is a transformative technology from AT&T Labs that could one day deliver low-cost, multi-gigabit wireless internet speeds using power lines. One of the planned locations will be in the United States with others to be determined in the coming months.

AT&T has experimented with this unique, patented broadband-over-power lines (BPL) technology at its outdoor facility for some time with positive results. These results led to the development of new innovations like the Radio Distributed Antenna System (RDAS). Now, they are closer to taking their trials to the next level. This technology will be easier to deploy than fiber, can run over license-free spectrum and can deliver ultra-fast wireless connectivity to any home or handheld wireless device. They designed Project AirGig literally from the ground up to be both practical and transformational.

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 its 5G Evolution approach. AT&T Labs is ‘writing the textbook’ for a new technology approach that has the potential to deliver benefits to utility companies and bring this multi-gigabit, low-cost internet connectivity anywhere there are power lines – big urban market, small rural town, globally.

In the last several years, AT&T has seen staggering usage growth on their wireless network - data has increased about 250,000% since 2007, and the majority of that traffic is video. This trend is not going to stop, with the rise of 4K mobile video streaming, augmented and virtual reality, smart homes and cities, autonomous vehicles and more. And they are working to provide connectivity everywhere, so its customers can enjoy these technologies seamlessly, wherever they are.

More than 10 years ago, some AT&T Labs engineers worked on earlier experiments to deliver BPL. Back then, broadband merely meant megabit speeds. The technology worked well, but couldn’t keep up with the move to higher speeds. So, the engineers shifted their focus from BPL to millimeter wave (mmWave) technology, and became curious about combining mmWave and powerlines. No one in the industry had connected these technologies together yet.

Some of the first experiments involved transmitting data signals using funnels from a local auto parts store covered with aluminum foil, placed next to unenergized power cables. These tests produced unexpected positive results, creating the foundation of Project AirGig’s development - transporting mmWaves over powerlines.

Now, they have more than 200 patents and patent applications for Project AirGig. AT&T Labs engineers and scientists invented low-cost plastic antennas, a Radio Distributed Antenna System (RDAS), mmWave surface wave launchers and inductive power devices. The RDAS will reconstruct signals for multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments. A typical DAS carries cellular signals throughout buildings and stadiums, using fiber and/or coaxial cables to transmit analog signals.

With the RDAS, AT&T found a system design to effectively deliver not just broadband, but also mobile traffic. The mmWave surface wave launchers and inductive power devices can power themselves without a direct electrical connection. These devices create a multi-gigabit signal that travels along or near the wire - not through it. This signal means connected experiences become an everyday reality for people - regardless of location.

Whether in a big city or rural town, things like 4K mobile video streaming, virtual reality and smart cities become possible. These antennas and devices along power lines effectively deliver broadband and mobile traffic. No need to build new towers. No need to bury new cables in the ground.

Future field trials will demonstrate how Project AirGig will work to support the smart grid technologies used by power companies, such as meter, appliance and usage control systems and early detection of powerline integrity issues. The trials will also evaluate the technology during inclement weather, such as rain, snow and high winds. Importantly, we can more precisely determine the cost of deployment while maintaining the highest signal quality for a customer.