AT&T Labs’ Project AirGig Nears First Field Trials for Ultra-Fast Wireless Broadband Over Power Lines
Where There Are Power Lines, There Can Be Broadband
AT&T* unveiled today Project AirGig, a transformative technology from AT&T Labs that could one day deliver low-cost, multi-gigabit wireless internet speeds using power lines. We’re deep in the experimentation phase. 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. We designed Project AirGig literally from the ground up to be both practical and transformational. Our initial and ongoing testing at AT&T outdoor facilities has been positive. We expect to kick off our first field trials in 2017.
“Project AirGig has tremendous potential to transform internet access globally – well beyond our current broadband footprint and not just in the United States,” said John Donovan, chief strategy officer and group president, Technology and Operations, AT&T. “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. To that end, we’re looking at the right global location to trial this new technology next year.”
Growing global internet connectivity with Project AirGig
AT&T has more than 100 patents or patent applications supporting this new technology and other access technologies. We think Project AirGig is unlike anything that’s out there. We’re experimenting with multiple ways to send a modulated radio signal around or near medium-voltage power lines. There’s no direct electrical connection to the power line required and it has the potential of multi-gigabit speeds in urban, rural and underserved parts of the world. Project AirGig delivers this last-mile access without any new fiber-to-the-home and it is flexible enough to be configured with small cells or distributed antenna systems. No need to build new towers. No need to bury new cables in the ground.
As part of Project AirGig, AT&T Labs invented low-cost plastic antennas and devices located along the power line to regenerate millimeter wave (mmWave) signals that can be used for 4G LTE and 5G multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments. These patent-pending devices can mean low hardware and deployment costs while maintaining the highest signal quality. We think we’ve come up with an approach that we believe will be unique in our industry.
Project AirGig can also be a benefit to utility companies. It could enable and expand a variety of smart-grid applications. It could also allow for early detection of line integrity issues, such as encroaching tree branches. Power companies could use it to pinpoint specific locations, down to the line segment, where proactive maintenance could prevent problems. It could also support utility companies’ meter, appliance and usage control systems. It has the potential to be a win for our customers and a win for the utility companies.
Today’s announcement of Project AirGig is a huge step forward in how we innovate around connecting people everywhere they live, work and play. It’s the latest step in an ongoing journey. We’re bringing connectivity to people in ways that few companies can. Today we have fiber connecting more people, buildings and business customer locations than anyone else. We’re using more than 1 million miles of the AT&T fiber network to deliver faster wired and wireless speeds to more locations. And we’re tying it all together with a software-centric approach built for the future.
- Wired: We’re delivering 1 gigabit per second speeds over fiber in 29 markets today with plans to expand more by year end. We’re also conducting technology trials over millimeter wave, next-generation fixed wireless and G.Fast technology to drive greater speeds and efficiencies in our new and existing copper and fiber networks. This gives us the potential to expand internet service beyond our existing wireline footprint.
- Wireless: We’re very excited about the continued evolution of 4G LTE and 5G networks over the next few years. We’ve been deploying 4G LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) in markets across the United States since early 2014 and today cover the vast majority of customers in our LTE coverage area. This means faster 4G LTE data speeds and greater network capacity for the customer. We’re teaming up with global technology leaders to align on 5G standards for faster 5G deployment. And we’re already doing 5G trials with fixed and mobile outdoor and lab testing.
- Software Defined: Traditionally, we relied on specialized hardware like routers, switches and firewalls to move voice calls and data across our network. These devices were reliable, but not ideal for today’s data and video usage, which demand faster and less cumbersome solutions. So we’re moving to software. Just like consumers have replaced CD players with streaming music apps on their phones, we’re turning our network gear into virtual software running on standard servers. And we’re giving our customers more control over their own network services. It’s fast, resilient and flexible. We plan to virtualize 75% of our network by 2020, the most aggressive pace in the industry.
“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,” said Donovan. “Project AirGig is still very much in the experimentation phase. That said, I’m excited about what AT&T Labs’ engineers have developed to date. Our overall access approach, in conjunction with our software-defined network architecture, is unmatched in its ability to usher in connected experiences like augmented reality, virtual reality, self-driving cars, telemedicine and 4K mobile video. Big urban city. Small rural town. Around the world.”
We look forward to sharing more soon on trials and details around the technology.
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