Utilities, already playing a steadily increasing role in delivering broadband to unserved and under-served regions such as rural America, could become a major provider of this service if AT&T AirGig continues to perform as well as preliminary tests suggest.
Although AirGig is not yet ready for deployment, AT&T is discussing next-steps -- including testing and building commercial-grade Project AirGig equipment, the service provider said in a press release. This next-step brings this technology closer to field tests using the power grid, which reaches almost every American, to deliver broadband Internet, said Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and chief technology officer. (See AT&T's Fuetsch on AirGig's Powerful Future.)
"With this technology we actually have some different variants of it, but it actually rides outside of the wire. In some modes it rides along the wire -- picture it like a donut -- and another variance is several inches or even a foot or two above the wire," Fuetsch told Broadband World News when it first launched AirGig. "We see this as a new, very economical way to avoid having to physically string fiber and other infrastructure to serve, typically, rural locations or under-served locations. This is a far more effective way to do it."
This move brings Project AirGig closer to reality -- predicted to arrive in 2021 (if not before) -- and complement 5G. The two technologies share "natural synergies," according to AT&T, since wireless technologies like 5G or LTE connect AirGig-delivered data from nearby electric lines to homes. Given 5G's many anticipated capabilities, including slicing and operators' ability to use a unified network to multiple services, this delivery conceivably could be more affordable to manage and provide to both home and SOHO, or even SMB, customers.
"We've applied for more than 500 patents for AirGig and conducted field trials both in and outside the United States. And today, we’re confident that we're on the cusp of a technology that could potentially help to solve the digital divide in this country," he said in a statement.
In 2017, AT&T teamed up with Georgia Power on a Project AirGig trial that provided a fixed wireless application to participating residential customers. In addition, AT&T used mmWave and LTE spectrum, along with plastic antenna prototypes installed along utility poles -- observing no degradation of mmWave signals during inclement weather, AT&T said.
"AirGig is a wild card in AT&T's 5G strategy, with the potential to give them a leg up in building a nationwide footprint of mmWave 5G. This announcement shows confidence that the technology is sound and mass-deployable in the field," Dan Grossman, principal of NetAcces Futures and contributing analyst at Heavy Reading, told Broadband World News. "Advancing from engineering prototypes to pilot production is a significant milestone. I expect that this will have a significant market impact starting in 2021, especially in areas that still lack high-speed broadband."
AirGig Powers Up Broadband
Using a mix of specially designed components and existing technologies, AT&T expects Project AirGig to help solve the Digital Divide. (Source: AT&T)
Participants received service of "hundreds of megabits per second" in rural regions of Georgia via self-install receiver equipment they deployed within about 10 minutes, according to the service provider.
"We share in AT&T’s excitement about what we saw in this Project AirGig trial,” said Paul Bowers, CEO of Georgia Power in a statement. "The potential ability to also use this technology to supplement our own energy operations and controls, such as with remote weather monitoring systems, is exciting. We can see something like AirGig delivering tremendous benefits in helping to solve for the digital divide in Georgia."
In addition to the gear already used during the Georgia Power trial, AT&T developed RDAS or radio distributed antenna systems. In addition to deliver broadband, these systems can deliver mobile traffic. And the provider's mmWave surface wave launchers self-power using inductive power devices that don't need a power connection; instead, they then create a high-speed signal that travels on or near the power line rather than through it, AT&T reported.
Although earlier experiments that used power lines to transmit data flunked due to speed issues, AirGig has not faced that issue. Using AirGig as backhaul actually sends data along utility lines at several Gbp/s, then powers wireless connections to residences that provide speeds of hundreds of Mbp/s or more, said Gordon Mansfield, vice president of converged access and devices, during AT&T Spark in San Francisco on Monday, according to
Deutsche Telekom just signed an infrastructure project with the Gigabit Region Stuttgart, home to 174 municipalities and almost 3 million people, one of many partnerships the German operator has inked in its bid to grow revenue and business.
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