AT&T says it is “in advanced discussions” with power companies to start trials of a new broadband technology in at least two locations by this fall.
This is an update on the Project AirGig that AT&T announced in September 2016. AirGig is a wireless technology even though it depends on the presence of power lines. Antennas that are placed on utility poles send wireless signals to each other; AT&T says the power lines “serve as a guide for the signals,” ensuring they reach their destination. AT&T says the wireless signals could be used to deliver multi-gigabit Internet speeds for either smartphone data or home Internet service.
Trial locations have not yet been announced, but today’s announcement says, “One location will be in the United States with others to be determined in the coming months.” There’s also no word on when commercial deployment might begin, but AT&T seems to be excited about the project.
“Future field trials will demonstrate how Project AirGig works to support power companies’ smart grid technologies, such as meter, appliance, and usage control systems and early detection of powerline integrity issues,” AT&T said. “The trials will also evaluate the technology during inclement weather, such as rain, snow, and high winds. Importantly, we can more precisely determine the cost of deployment while maintaining the highest signal quality for a customer.” AirGig devices use inductive power and don’t require a direct electrical connection
It’s not clear whether any individual customers will get AirGig service in the trials this year. We asked AT&T, and the company said, “that’s among the details we’re working out for the first trials.”
Though AT&T has made fiber-to-the-premises available to nearly 4 million customer locations nationwide, the company’s old copper networks haven’t been upgraded in a lot of areas, leaving many customers with painfully slow speeds or no wired broadband at all. AT&T doesn’t seem to be in any rush to help all of these customers access modern Internet speeds, but it’s also testing a couple of technologies in addition to AirGig that might help rural areas. AT&T provided very short updates on those projects today.
One such technology is G.fast, a new version of DSL that greatly increases speeds over copper lines. “Based on the learnings of a G.fast trial at a multifamily property in Minneapolis, we plan to make the technology available at additional locations beginning mid-2017,” AT&T said. G.fast can offer fiber-like speeds but those speeds degrade over distance, just like traditional DSL, so in many areas, AT&T would need to bring fiber closer to homes to deploy G.fast.
AT&T is also testing a home wireless Internet service for rural areas. “In 2016, we began trialling a Fixed Wireless Internet (FWI) service in several states on our path to expand access to locations with slow or no Internet connectivity—primarily in rural areas—as part of our participation in the FCC Connect America Fund (CAF),” AT&T said today. “We plan to begin offering FWI in areas where we accepted CAF support in mid-2017, reaching over 400,000 locations by the end of this year. Ultimately we plan to expand internet access to more than 1.1 million locations across 18 states by the end of 2020.”