AT&T in discussions with electric utilities, others about trialing AirGig powerline technology

utility poles
Broadband over powerline (BPL) may hold promise, but it remains shrouded in skepticism.

AT&T said it has entered into advanced discussions with a number of electric utilities and other companies about trialing its new Project AirGig technology in up to two locations this fall.

During the next stage of field trials, AT&T plans to demonstrate how Project AirGig supports power companies’ smart grid technologies, including meter, appliance and usage control systems and early detection of powerline integrity issues.

The trials will also evaluate how the technology works during inclement weather, such as rain, snow and high winds.

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RELATED: AT&T’s AirGig catches the eye of Wisconsin utilities, officials

“We are looking forward to begin testing the possibilities of AT&T Labs’ invention for customers and utility companies,” said Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and CTO, in a release.

Wisconsin's utilities, rural operators take notice

While AT&T has not revealed what utilities it is talking to about trialing the AirGig technology, a report emerged last October showing a number of Wisconsin’s rural utility providers and local officials see potential.

States like Wisconsin are anxious to see what a new technology like AirGig could do to help raise its broadband speed profile.

According to the National Broadband Map, Wisconsin ranked 33rd among U.S. states for average broadband speeds under the 2014 metric of 3 Mbps downstream/768 kbps upstream. Since that time, a Speedtest conducted by Ookla revealed that the state ranks 49th as of August, averaging 28.59 Mbps/6.46 Mbps.

Wisconsin has had some experience using BPL. In 2005, Washington Island Electric Coop deployed a BPL system in 2005 to serve its 250 rural customers, but shut it down in 2010 due to the amount of maintenance the network required. Washington Island’s network delivered 5 Mbps speeds, which is far slower than the FCC’s current 25 Mbps downstream guidelines.

A new approach

Broadband over powerline (BPL) may hold promise, but it remains shrouded in skepticism.

In 2009, IBM invested several million dollars into powerline vendor IBEC in 2009 to further broadband access efforts. The movement lost momentum, with Manassas, Virginia, shutting down its BPL after losing around $166,000 annually on the service.  

While there’s no shortage of BPL failures, AT&T claims AirGig’s approach will make it successful.

Unlike earlier iterations of BPL, AT&T said AirGig is more efficient because runs alongside, rather than within, the powerline itself on medium voltage powerlines.

AT&T has been experimenting with its patented broadband-over-powerline (BPL) technology at its outdoor facility.

After seeing what it said were “positive results,” AT&T developed new innovations like the Radio Distributed Antenna System (RDAS).

AirGig uses low-cost plastic antennas, an RDAS, millimeter wave wireless surface wave launchers and inductive power devices. The RDAS, according to AT&T, will reconstruct signals for multi-gigabit mobile and fixed deployments.

A typical DAS carries cellular signals throughout buildings and stadiums, using existing fiber and/or coaxial cables to transmit analog signals.

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