Broadband Over Power Lines -- We Really Mean It This Time


Since February 2014, Andrew Jay Schwartzman has been writing a monthly column for the Benton Foundation’s Digital Beat blog on telecommunications and media policy issues. Drawing on his decades of experience in the field, Schwartzman provides analysis of the legal issues in the key communications debates of the day, highlighting how law and policymaking interact. Find all of Andy's articles here.


Regular Digital Beat readers know Andrew Jay Schwartzman writes a monthly column on telecommunications and media policy issues. You might consider also reading The Daily Item, in which Schwartzman offers you just one thing you might have missed. Below is The Daily Item for February 2, 2017, reprinted with Schwartzman's approval.

Broadband Over Power Lines -- We Really Mean It This Time

Andrew Schwartzman
Andrew Schwartzman
If Project AirGig sounds familiar, it's because you've heard this tune before
When telecom engineers are shooting the breeze, they often use the phrase "Project Angel" as a punchline. For almost 20 years, AT&T (and its predecessor company, also called AT&T) periodically announced that it was going to use revolutionary and exotic technologies to deliver high-speed wireless service that could replace (at first) copper phone lines and, later, to deliver ultra-fast broadband service. Despite big press announcements (such as these in 1997, 2000 , and 2002), Project Angel never happened. At least until now.

This could be very important. AT&T is unveiling (for only the second time) yet another new wireless scheme, one which has been announced only once before. This time, it is calling the new initiative "Project AirGig," but the hype, if not the technology, is similar. Except this time, the market and the technology might actually let this happen.

The telecom folks are abuzz again, because this is really audacious. The idea seems to be that AT&T would mount transmitters along electrical power lines and use the proximity to the electricity to help relay ultra high speed Internet along the rights of way. Speculation that AT&T really means it this time has been fueled by the fact that AT&T announced that it will buy FiberTower, a company that controls a large swathe of very high frequency spectrum.

Keep an eye on this, because if it works, it could reduce the need for fiber and perhaps greatly reduce the cost of Internet access.

See:

AT&T's Multi-Gigabit Wireless Over Power Lines Heading To Trials This Year


Andrew Jay Schwartzman is the Benton Senior Counselor at the Public Interest Communications Law Project at Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation (IPR). Schwartzman writes monthly for Benton's Digital Beat blog.

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It's interesting technology. From my understanding, the microwave travels along the surface of the power conductor. Does this mean there needs to be a repeater at every pole where the power conductor is possibly interrupted or has an attachment to an insulator? How much of new power infrastructure is going underground? Will this work on underground power? Most new developments I've seen do not have overhead power. How does the bandwidth compare with fiber? An advantage of fiber is that once you fill its incredibly large bandwidth capacity, you can run another fiber for even more. This appears to be a pole to pole communications system and does not deal with the drop to the house or other building. How will the drop to the house be handled? Twisted pair? Wi Fi? Coax? Fiber?

HaroldHallikainen on February 3, 2017 - 10:28am.