Fiber-based internet service is great (ask any jealous New Yorker not eligible for FiOS) but laying fiber cable costs tens of thousands of dollars per mile. Infrastructure projects to bring it to every household in a given area so expensive, even Google can’t foot the bill. So AT&T decided to use stuff most places had already to piggyback a wi-fi signal.
Project AirGig involves installing plastic routers on the tops of extant utility poles and letting gigabit internet follow the path of the power lines over to the next router, and the next, and the next. The small routers would presumably be a lot cheaper and require less zoning headaches than digging up holes to lay fresh cable. In theory, it’s a cheap and clever solution to the expensive problem of better wifi coverage—but right now it’s still equal parts marketing hype and proof of concept.
“We’re experimenting with multiple ways to send a modulated radio signal around or near medium-voltage power lines,” the AT&T press release explains, suggesting they’re far from figuring out how to implement these devices for practical use.
Project AirGig is still in the early stages of testing, and field trials aren’t slated to begin until 2017. Gigabit wi-fi seems to be the way large-scale internet initiatives have been going for a while, with Starry and LinkNYC being two of the major examples. The Verge points out though that lack of redundancy and potential for interruption from inclement weather could potentially kneecap the project. We’re honestly more worried about people climbing the utility poles to steal a free router.