AT&T's 'Transformational' Project AirGig Promises Multi-Gigabit Speeds In More Locations

Telecom giant AT&T is experimenting with delivering multi-Gigabit wireless internet speeds using existing power lines. AT&T Tuesday unveiled Project AirGig, a technology that will transport high-speed connectivity to any location or handheld wireless device, according to the carrier.

Project AirGig will work by using a combination of license-free spectrum and low-cost plastic antennas developed by AT&T to regenerate the wave signals across existing power lines. This method will allow the Dallas-based carrier to connect people and mobile devices to multi-Gigabit speeds without relying on expensive fiber networks, according to AT&T.

AT&T said that because of the freedom that Project AirGig has from cables, the technology would allow it to combat the high cost of deploying high-speed internet connectivity to new areas, including rural locations and underserved areas.

[Related: Google Battles AT&T, Comcast Over Fiber Rollout In Nashville, Reportedly Plans To Cut Fiber Staff In Half]

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Project AirGig is the result of AT&T's experimentation with several different ways to send a modulated radio signal around or near medium-voltage power lines. The new technology doesn't require a direct connection to the power line – instead, AirGig relies on antennas and devices mounted along the power line that AT&T Labs has created for the project. These devices will regenerate millimeter wave signals that can be used for 4G LTE and 5G multi-Gigabit mobile and fixed deployments, according to the carrier.

Because AirGig technology doesn't rely on fiber or an electrical connection, AT&T will be able to deploy multi-Gigabit internet speeds faster and within areas that have been historically underserved, AT&T said.

"Project AirGig has tremendous potential to transform internet access globally – well beyond our current broadband footprint and not just in the United States,’ said AT&T's chief strategy officer and group president, Technology and Operations, John Donovan. "We’re looking at the right global location to trial this new technology next year.’

AT&T did not respond to CRN's request for comment by publication time regarding whether AirGig would be immediately available to business customers and through its ecosystem of channel partners.

TeraNova Consulting Group, a solution provider that specializes in telecom expense and managed services for wireless solutions and an AT&T partner, believes the carrier's latest wireless technology is "fascinating," said Natasha Royer Coons, managing director of the San Diego-based solution provider.

"If AT&T allows solution providers in the channel to sell 5G speeds in more service areas leveraging this technology, it will help us deliver more solutions over cellular to our clients," Coons said. "These solutions range from supporting streaming at much greater speeds, and less latency for connecting a whole universe of devices such as wearables, cars, security cameras, home appliances [and] alarms." ​

Industry research firm Gartner predicts that there will be 20.8 billion connected devices by 2020, compared to the currently estimated 6.4 billion connected devices today. ​

AT&T is facing stiff competition in the high-speed internet arena. Earlier this year, Comcast unveiled its Gigabit-speed Internet service that relies on a modem upgraded with DOCSIS 3.1 technology. This technology can enable connectivity speeds of 10 Gbps on the download and 1 Gbps on the upload, without any reliance on fiber networks.

AT&T is already delivering Gigabit wireless speeds in 29 U.S. markets today via its GigaPower Fiber-based internet service to consumers and small businesses. The carrier plans has expansion plans for its fiber network by the end of 2016.

AT&T also said in its blog that it has more than 100 patents pending for AirGig's "transformational" technology and other access technologies, a factor that could greatly benefit the carrier from a competitive standpoint, TeraNova's Coons said.

"Since [AT&T] would have the patents and first-mover advantage leveraging bleeding-edge technology, I definitely see a few competitive advantages for AT&T," she said.

These advantages include owning the revenue-generating patents that can be sold to other wireless carriers, equipment revenue that can be sold to utility companies, as well as the potential for partnerships and contracts with utility companies interested in using this technology to deliver greater wireless reach and speeds to their own customers or to leverage the technology for smart grid applications, according to Coons.

Testing for Project AirGig has already begun at AT&T's outdoor facilities and the carrier expects its first field trials to begin in 2017.