Telecommunications

AT&T's AirGig project to test high-speed Wi-Fi delivery over power lines

AT&T's AirGig project to test ...
The AirGig system would rely on cheap plastic antennae placed atop power-line poles
The AirGig system would rely on cheap plastic antennae placed atop power-line poles
View 1 Image
The AirGig system would rely on cheap plastic antennae placed atop power-line poles
1/1
The AirGig system would rely on cheap plastic antennae placed atop power-line poles

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.

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.

Source: AT&T

9 comments
Tony Loro
I have learned to not trust AT$T. Felons at the top yet again.
pwndecaf
So, what else will be possible with the millimeter wave technology that they won't tell us about? Taking pictures, scanning our homes like so much luggage? When can I get it!
RobertTwigg
How will AT&T AirGig reach homes that have their power lines under ground?
Noel K Frothingham
Robert Twigg, if you are referring to the actual service drop that runs from the transformers to the meter base, buried power lines are irrelevant since the signal is being broadcast using millimeter wave technology. The writer mentions that one potential weakness of this tech is the required 'direct line-of-sight' between the transmitter and the homes reception antenna. It appears that the actual network signal is transmitted from the source to the pole mounted millimeter transmitter package. Even if the neighborhood has buried the service loop that runs from the electrical substation to the homes, there will be an overhead transmission lines somewhere. As the article states, this technology is being designed to provide Internet signal to areas where there are too few residents per mile to justify the expense of extending the network. pwndecaf, now there's a visual I could have done without. ;) s
RichMorgan
THERE IS A FEW REPORTS OF R.F.I. FROM THESE TRANSMISSIONS. I'VE BEEN AN AMATEUR RADIO OPERATOR FOR ALMOST 60 YRS.; TAUGHT ELECTRONICS, ETC. THERE'S AN OLD HAM RADIO AXIOM - "IF R.F. GETS OUT, R.F. CAN GET IN". THIS MEANS THE SHIELDING WOULD HAVE TO VERY EFFECTIVE & MAINTAINED AS SUCH. THIS METHOD WAS TRIED BEFORE IN NYC; 1 BLOCK WAS WIPED OUT BY A LOW POWERED TRANSMITTER. IT WILL BE INTERESTING, TO SAY THE LEAST, TO SEE IF, IN OR NEAR, A METROPOLITAN AREA, QUALITY COMMUNICATIONS CAN BE MAINTAINED. BURIAL OF UTILITIES WOULD PROBABLY BE WORSE THUS DIFFICULT TO KEEP HE POSSIBILITY OF DEGRADATION OF SIGNALS.
Calson
Regardless of whether it is a WiFi transmitter on a power line post or on a cell tower it depends on line of sight transmission to the user. The problem with all cellular is that it is best suited for places like Kansas and least suited to places in California, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Maine, and many other parts of the USA. In such places land lines are needed and AT&T has halted all investment in land line improvements to provide broadband service. In Monterey county where I live in a community of 17,000 people I cannot even get DSL for my office and instead pay AT&T $357 a month for a 1.5 mb/s T-1 loop. It is time for the federal government to step in and provide broadband internet to the country as private businesses are not doing the job and we are now paying 4-6 times as much for internet access as people in other industrialized and even non-industrialized countries. Unbridled capitalists are great at maximizing their profits but terrible in providing goods or service efficiently or effectively.
agulesin
Can someone tell me how "plastic antennae" can transmit anything at all? And if this is only for backbone (as I understand), why not run a fiber optic cable around one of the conductors instead of sticking a bit of kit on each (?) pole of the route...
noteugene
cheaper to install yet prices will increase. we get it.
Calson
Another idea coming out of places in the Great Plains where it is flat and no hills or trees to block transmission signals.