What Happened to AirGig?

You might remember press releases from AT&T in 2018 that promised a revolution in rural broadband from a technology called AirGig. The technology was described as using millimeter-wave spectrum to shoot focused radio beams along power lines, with the electric field of the powerlines somehow acting to keep the transmissions focused to follow the wires.

AT&T said at the time that the technology could deliver hundreds of megabits of data to rural homes using a network built from inexpensive plastic components mounted on power lines. The last I heard of the technology was this AT&T video released in 2019.

There had been a field trial of the technology conducted with Georgia Power, and the CEO of the electric company was enthusiastic at the time about the technology. AT&T talked about starting the process of manufacturing hardware. And then . . . crickets. There hasn’t been a word on the web about the technology since then.

I saw articles published by IEEE in 2019 that talked about a different broadband-over-powerline (BPS) technology developed by Panasonic. IEEE amended the standard for BPL to recognize Panasonic’s HD-PLC technology. Panasonic claims to have reached 60 Mbps transmissions using the technology but thought they could goose this to several hundred Mbps.

I always wondered how much of the AT&T announcement on AirGig was hype. Timing-wise, the AT&T AirGig announcement came in the middle of the 5G craze where the cellular carriers were trying to gain major concessions from the government to promote 5G. AT&T and the other carriers wanted a lot more spectrum – and they’ve largely gotten it. Perhaps they were using the AirGig to justify more spectrum. But the video shows that AT&T has gotten a pile of patents for the technology, so it seems to be the real deal.

Today’s blog asked what happened, and I hope somebody who knows will say. Did field trials reveal a fatal flaw in the technology? That’s always possible with any wireless technology. Did the technology just underperform and not deliver the promised broadband speeds? Or will AT&T spring a finished technology on the world one of these days?

5 thoughts on “What Happened to AirGig?

  1. Great question. Similarly, I followed AT&T’s announcements, finding the technology fascinating and hoping the approach would provide a way to extend broadband using existing infrastructure. The subsequent silence is not encouraging.

  2. It sounds like Goubau line…aka “G line”..it works at lower frequencies. I’m wondering if there was an issue with it’s operation to mm wavelengths.

  3. I am shocked, shocked I say, that technology companies would promote vaper-ware before there is an actual hardware or software product ready to go! Hoping that there is fire behind the smoke, and there is really something there. Thanks for keeping us posted.

  4. Explanation #1
    The photos I saw showed AirGig installed in the energized “supply space” on the pole above the “primary” conductors (typically 2kV – 15kV). That’s a hazardous, expensive area to work, even compared to ADSS installation – also in the supply space but near the neutral.

    These installations would have to be planned out pole-by-pole.

    Georgia Power’s CEO was enthusiastic but like so many power utility executives, he doesn’t have an operations or engineering background. He came from the political and regulatory side:
    https://wmualumni.org/traditions/distinguished-alumni/award-recipients/2020/christopher-c-womack-bs79-political-science

    My guess is that in the field, AirGig was doable but with more cost and effort than its proponents expected.

    Explanation #2
    This is AT&T – hardly a paragon of execution and follow-through. Maybe someone else might have pulled it off.

  5. Although I’m a wireless geek, my guess is more mundane – AT&T is barely keeping its head above water managing its corporate debt and decided that, though the technology was promising, in the end it couldn’t take on pioneering yet another wireless’ish technology. I also agree with A B that putting hardware on the high voltage towers is so hazardous as to be expensive; at that point it’s probably more cost effective to just deploy more fiber.

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