AT&T And Georgia Power Partner To Deliver Broadband Access Over Power Lines

AT&T announced today that they have selected Georgia to be its testbed for delivering gigabit broadband access over power lines (BPL). The technology could make great strides in reaching underserved areas that have limited or no broadband access, like rural areas. From the AJC article:

AT&T said its Project AirGig could someday deliver “gigabit” speeds to rural and urban areas near above-ground power lines without building new broadcasting towers or burying new fiber optic cable.

AT&T, in partnership with Georgia Power, is testing the technology in an undisclosed rural Georgia location. Technicians can essentially clamp the technology onto existing power infrastructure in a matter of minutes, AT&T said in a news release.

The technology can deliver high speeds over existing infrastructure thereby reducing costs, but BPL does have some drawbacks in the form or radio-frequency interference. This is a concern for amateur radio operators since noise from interfering sources can cover up radio contacts. From the American Radio Relay League:

Because power lines are not designed to prevent radiation of RF energy, BPL represents a significant potential interference source for all radio services using this frequency range, including the Amateur Radio Service. Overhead electrical power lines and residential wiring act as antennas and overhead power lines radiate the broadband signals as radio signals throughout entire neighborhoods and along roadsides. Interference has been observed nearly one mile from the nearest access BPL source.

According to BroadbandNow, the emerging technology has been used by a number of BPL providers in the US, but those providers were no longer in business as of 2016. The technology is worth field testing, and I, as a radio amateur, hope that both AT&T and Georgia Power listen to the amateur radio community about their concerns with BPL and see what can be done to help address those concerns. If the tests are successful, then it will go a long way of bridging the broadband gap to get more Georgians connected.

UPDATED: Always good to get some education courtesy of Joseph Brannan as he posted on my Facebook:

So this technology is neat and is actually different from the original BoPL. The data path doesn’t ride on the physical wires – it rides on the electrical field disturbance that surrounds a high-voltage line which allows them to get the higher throughput and also more easily deal with changes at substations/transformers, etc (something that was difficult under the original BoPL).

Thanks for the details, Joseph!


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