AT&T Labs unveils wireless broadband over power lines

In a technological advance that could drastically extend the global reach of wireless web access, AT&T Labs unveiled a project to deliver ultra-fast wireless broadband over power lines.

The research and development wing of U.S. communications giant AT&T unveiled Project AirGig today. The company said the project is still deep in the experimentation stage but the first field trials are expected in 2017.

This technology aims to supply broadband anywhere there are power lines. The consequence of using such electrical infrastructure could enable high-speed connectivity for significant numbers of underserved and remote communities around the world.

AT&T says that this technology can run over license-free spectrum as it delivers ultra-fast wireless internet to homes and connected devices. And as it relies on using power line infrastructure, it says this connectivity will be easier to deploy than fiber.

The technology allows you to roll out a low-cost broadband solution in underserved areas “like a bit of a mesh network,” says AT&T chief strategy officer, John Donovan. He added he expects the first network to be up and running around 2020.

Cost issues for bringing new broadband “can’t just mean installing new equipment” in line with Moore’s Law, he said, adding that existing infrastructure needs to be leveraged.

The technology promises to provide the speedy web connectivity without requiring any direct electrical connection to the power line. AT&T adds that Project AirGig will provide last-mile connectivity without the deployment of any new fiber-to-the-home.

AT&T filed hundreds of patents

As part of the development of its new technology, AT&T has filed over 100 patents or patent applications related to Project AirGig.

Among its patent pending technologies, AT&T Labs created low-cost plastic antennas and devices that regenerate signals along the length of the power lines. These can accommodate 4G LTE and 5G multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments.

The flexibility of the technology allows the use of distributed antenna systems or small cells, which avoids requiring new buried cables or towers.

Beyond providing high-speed connectivity to many isolated and underserved customers, the company says utilities can also benefit from piggybacking the AirGig technology on their power lines.

It said that the new technology could provide allow the utilities to roll out new smart-grid applications and also enable new capabilities for power line integrity monitoring.

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