Even though much of the world is being blanketed with internet signals through a variety of modalities, there are still places where getting a reliable high-speed broadband link is tough. AT&T has just announced a project that might help with that. It's called AirGig and it relies on power lines and millimeter wave technology to beam an internet signal pretty much anywhere there's electricity.
AirGig relies on inexpensive plastic antennae that are placed along power-line poles at regular intervals. These antennae beam and boost a millimeter-wave broadband signal to each other using a magnetic field that travels around or near the power lines – but not actually through them. Once the signal is flowing, the idea is that anyone with a Wi-Fi-enabled device would be able to pick it up. AT&T says that the AirGig system will be able to reach speeds rivaling current 4G LTE and someday 5G mobile internet speeds.
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The system is currently being tested at AT&T's outdoor facility and is expected to be field tested sometime next year.
Millimeter waves have already shown their usefulness in transmitting a broadband signal. Earlier this year, a system using the technology transmitted data at 6 Gigabits per second, setting a new world record for wireless data transmission. The technology, which relies on electromagnetic waves that are longer than x-rays but shorter than radio waves (they are found in the 10 mm (0.4 in) to 1 mm (0.04 in) range and are also known as extremely high frequency waves), is also showing up in other applications, including heart-rate monitors, car-safety systems, and luggage scanners.
One issue that AT&T will have to grapple with is that millimeter-wave transmissions need a direct line-of-sight between antennae, so that will be an important component of installation, and could lead to potential outage issues if critters like birds or squirrels decide to perch on the antennae. The technology will likely be used for "last mile" internet signal supply though, which means it will take the signal from another technology, like fiber optics, and transmit it into areas that don't have access. This means the installation runs will likely be fairly short.
If the company's field tests prove successful, the technology will offer a cheap way to bring internet service to those who need it, as the installation doesn't require new lines to be run or towers to be built. AT&T also claims the technology could help utility companies by alerting them to issues along the power lines where the antennae are installed and by helping with power-usage metering.
AT&T released the promotional video below along with the announcement of AirGig.