AT&T says it is developing a wireless alternative to expensive, high-speed fiber networks that would utilize power lines to deliver very high-speed (multi-gig) Internet into your home. The communications giant says “Project AirGig” is a “breakthrough” – and the technology is patented, protected by some 100 of them.

This is potentially huge news for businesses and consumers who want ever-faster Internet service. And the announcement instantly made headlines around the globe. Here’s a sampling:

  • Forbes: “AT&T Reveals Secret Plan For Wi-Fi Even Faster Than Google Fiber”

  • Tom’s Guide: “Shocking! AT&T AirGig to provide Internet via power lines”

  • Engadget: “AT&T’s Project AirGig could be a wireless alternative to fiber”

  • Android Police: “AT&T’s Project AirGig is the insane future of ultra-fast mobile (and fixed) networks”

  • Light Reading: “AT&T Claims ‘Breakthrough’ With New Power Line Delivery Tech for 4G, 5G”

With the cost of laying fiber at around $6 a foot as reported for a North Carolina project (in other words, extremely expensive), fiber providers are seeking alternatives. Google Fiber wants to test experimental wireless technology in the Triangle and other markets. And AT&T, Verizon and other firms are testing the next generation in cell networks (5G, promising mobile broadband).

Now comes AT&T with AirGig even as it is building out thousands of miles of fiber for its Triangle-area U-Verse network.

“If AT&T can get this technology off the ground in a cost-effective manner, it could be one of the answers as to how to bring broadband services to underserved countries and rural areas in the US: using existing power line infrastructure,” writes Dan Jones, the mobile editor for tech industry news site Light Reading.


  • VIDEO: Watch a background video about the project at:

An AT&T spokesperson tells WRAL TechWire that the company sees taking this technology global.

“This technology has the potential to transform Internet access globally, well beyond the AT&T footprint and outside the U.S.,” he says.

“Having performed extremely well in Labs tests, we’ll soon announce market trials for AirGig in select cities and countries.”

Delivering Internet via the power grid has been explored before, but the AT&T approach is different.

Data would be moved through wireless spectrum around the grid, not through the pipes.

The technology

Here’s how AT&T describes the key characteristics of AirGig:

  • Is easier to deploy than fiber because it runs over license-free spectrum (no need for cables or new towers)
  • AT&T is experimenting with multiple ways to send a modulated radio signal around or near medium-voltage power lines without the need for electrical connections
  • Uses newly designed antennas to create an electromagnetic field that speeds and guides waves along the power line
  • Transfers through newly designed antennas and devices greatly reducing hardware and deployment costs
  • Leverages existing power line infrastructure to help solve connectivity for rural and global markets

A “breakthrough” with projected 2019-2020 delivery

“It doesn’t work through the power lines, it’s a wireless technology running over the power lines,” AT&T’s Chief Strategy Officer John Donovan said in a conference call to discuss what he describes as a “breakthrough.”

“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,” he explained in the announcement. “To that end, we’re looking at the right global location to trial this new technology next year.”

Trials are expecting in 2017 although AT&T has already been testing the technology in labs.

What’s the timeline for service availability?

Perhaps as soon as 2019 or 2020 – right on the heels of 5G rollouts.

“We believe Project AirGig has the potential to quickly bring connectivity to all parts of the world. Our researchers are addressing the challenges that hampered similar approaches a decade ago, such as megabit per second speeds and high deployment costs,” Donovan added. “Project AirGig is still very much in the experimentation phase. That said, I’m excited about what AT&T Labs’ engineers have developed to date. Our overall access approach, in conjunction with our software-defined network architecture, is unmatched in its ability to usher in connected experiences like augmented reality, virtual reality, self-driving cars, telemedicine and 4K mobile video. Big urban city. Small rural town. Around the world.”