AT&T today announced new technology it says has the potential to deliver "low cost, ultra-fast multi-gigabit per second wireless internet speeds" using existing infrastructure — power lines.
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The technology "has the potential to transform Internet access globally, well beyond the AT&T footprint," delivering speedy wireless connectivity to homes and wireless devices all around the world. It's performed "extremely well" in AT&T's internal tests, so the company is now gearing up to see how it works in the real world and plans to soon announce AirGig market trials in select cities and countries.
Designed and tested by AT&T Labs inventors over the last decade, broadband over power lines is said to be easier and cheaper to deploy than fiber because it runs over license-free spectrum and doesn't require new towers or underground cables. AT&T is serious about this — the company already has more than 100 patents or patent applications supporting AirGig and other access technologies.
In a blog post, AT&T explained that it's "experimenting with multiple ways to send a modulated radio signal around or near medium-voltage power lines," adding that the technology does not require a direct electrical connection to the line — a major factor hampering similar technologies in the past. As part of the project, AT&T invented low-cost plastic antennas and devices to create an electromagnetic field that guides waves alongside the power line, not through it. The resulting millimeter wave signals can "enable ultra-fast connection nearly anywhere."
"We think we've come up with an approach that we believe will be unique in our industry," the company wrote.
Utility companies, AT&T says, could benefit via early detection of power line problems, such as encroaching tree branches.
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At this point, AT&T is "deep in the experimentation phase," and hopes to kick off its first AirGig field trials in 2017.
"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," AT&T Technology and Operations Chief Strategy Officer and Group President John Donovan said in a statement. "To that end, we're looking at the right global location to trial this new technology next year."