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AT&T beaming AirGig broadband from power lines

Two official trials have begun for AirGig, technology to send internet data along power lines and into your home.

AT&T's AirGig technology sends data along antennas mounted to power line towers or poles.

AT&T's AirGig technology sends data along antennas mounted to power line towers or poles.

AT&T

Sure, you can dig trenches across the land and fill them up with fiber-optic cables, but AT&T has begun testing what it says is a promising alternative called AirGig that relies on radio signals instead.

Unveiled last year, AirGig sends data from one antenna to another along power lines in rural, suburban or urban areas. It also sends data to nearby buildings at speeds of about 1 gigabit per second -- something like 15 times faster than the average US broadband data-transfer rate.

AT&T now has two trials underway, one a suburban test in an undisclosed country outside the US, and another in partnership with Georgia Power in a more rural location, the company announced Tuesday night. 

"If these trials and our continued research and development turn out the way we intend, we'll take a big step toward bringing hyperfast connectivity to people everywhere,"  Andre Fuetsch, president of AT&T Labs and the company's chief technology officer, said in a statement.

Hyperfast internet access sounds hyperbolic, but there's our appetite for network data is insatiable and growing, so any new technology can help. In practice, we're likely to be served by new short- and long-range radio links, ever-faster data links on traditional phone and cable TV lines to our homes, and fiber optic lines, too. Indeed, AT&T's broadband business is stringing fiber along phone lines in several cities around the US.

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The tests are going well in both the rural and suburban areas, a sign that it's meeting its potential, AT&T said. The tests will last months, but it's not yet clear when AT&T will commercialize the technology.

AirGig has the potential to stretch to some rural areas where expensive and pokey satellite-based broadband is the only practical option. But even though AT&T says it takes only minutes for trained operators to install the antennas, hardware and labor costs will add up over the miles.

AirGig also could serve as something of a backbone for the 5G mobile networks expected to arrive starting in 2019, AT&T said. Today's phones use fourth-generation (4G) mobile network technology called LTE, but 5G is expected to boost speed and reliability, especially in crowded areas.