back to article AT&T ready to trial latest attempt at pumping internet over power lines

AT&T says it is set to begin public trials of a project to backhaul high-speed mobile internet over power lines. These power lines will carry internet traffic to and from cell towers so the masts can beam 4G/LTE and 5G coverage to nearby phones. That's particularly useful for people out in the countryside, and more convenient …

  1. Dagg

    Death by QRM

    That's it total death of radio, AM and SW will be completely useless.

  2. as2003

    I'm imagining comically enormous powerline adaptors plugged in at either end

  3. JWG

    Can anyone say "SCADA"?

    Given the inherent insecurities of SCADA, they want to allow hackers even more access? Genius! They can take down the power grid and Internet at the same time" Brilliant!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can anyone say "SCADA"?

      @ JWG: "Given the inherent insecurities of SCADA, they want to allow hackers even more access? Genius! They can take down the power grid and Internet at the same time" Brilliant!"

      Haa, at least two people here disagree witth that statement, as to why, we'll never know.

      1. Natalie Gritpants Silver badge

        Re: Can anyone say "SCADA"?

        Possibly because if you're getting the internet from a cell tower taking down the power to that tower also takes down your internet connection anyway.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Can anyone say "SCADA"?

      If you take down the power grid, you will take down the internet as well since cable companies don't use backup batteries at all (cable goes out when power does around here, even if your house is on a generator) and while DSL nodes and cell towers have backup batteries, they won't last forever.

      Anyway, even if something was traveling on the power lines here (which it is NOT) then how are hackers going to get at it? You think that putting "internet" on one small section of power lines means that the SCADA controls at the substations can magically access it? Maybe you need to think a little harder about such a ridiculous suggestion.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Could probably do solar monitoring

    With packet retries graph.

    1. Random Q Hacker

      Re: Could probably do solar monitoring

      I did something like that in the noughts. Ran a DSL and dialup ISP and used SNMP readings on signal strength and connect speeds per customer to diagnose changes over time (speed complaint corresponds to drop in signal which corresponds to rainy weather, so we tell the customer to check their outside lines/box for leaks). You could actually gauge amount of rain in a storm by the aggregate drop in signals or connect speed. Thought about solar weather but never followed up on that idea.

  5. Mage Silver badge


    Will people never learn?

    Basic physics. You can't have more than a few hundred bits per second on power lines without two issues.

    1) Signal susceptible to mobile radio and interference.

    2) Signal radiating and interfering with other services.

    Domestic powerline adaptors only "pass" FCC and CE because they are tested using loop holes in the procedures. They need to be tested properly, at which point they will either be banned or manage only about 80K bps without interference (and over a shorter range too).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Stupid

      Wrong. This isn't traveling on the power lines at all, it is traveling "alongside" them. They are merely a waveguide - and the only reason they're using power lines for this is because they're the highest wire on the pole. If phone lines were the highest they'd be using those - and it wouldn't interfere with the phone calls or DSL those phone lines were carrying.

      The powerline adapters you can buy have as much to do with this technology as dial up modems do with fiber optics.

  6. imanidiot Silver badge

    I sensed a disturbance in the force

    As if a million HAMs cried out in anguish and were suddenly silenced (in a torrent of radio interference)

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Mage Silver badge

      Re: I sensed a disturbance in the force

      Hams are not the only people using MW & SW.

      Ordinary people, spies listening to number stations, CB users :D

      Also ESB trials (Ireland's Electricity service) found that licensed low band VHF mobile and also CB disrupted the powerline data.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I sensed a disturbance in the force

      AT&T hasn't released enough info about this to know whether it will be a problem for HAMs, but I'd guess not. The signal isn't traveling on the wire, so there is nothing to radiate. They're also using millimeter waves (> 30 GHz) in their trials, which I doubt any HAMs care about.

  7. Wade Burchette Silver badge

    This will not work

    Most power lines in the US are above ground on poles. The US has some pretty nasty weather: hurricanes, tornadoes, freezing rain. During a strong noreasterly extratropical cyclone (nor'easter), you can go from a blizzard, ice storm, to all rain all with strong winds. Some nor'easters even form an eye like a hurricane. These weather events do not like power poles. Mobile phone tower have backup power generation. But if the power line to the tower, which is delivering internet, was felled by Hurricane Andrew, will tower even work? Especially since AT&T is turning off the old GSM parts and switching to VoLTE.

    This idea might work on the west coast of US where extreme weather is much less common. But not in the midwest or east coast.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This will not work

      So you should only use tornado proof technology here in the midwest? Guess what, towers are even more vulnerable to being knocked out by a tornado than a utility pole.

      This is intended for rural areas. Places where AT&T still has 2G speeds because they have a couple of T1s to the tower. Running fiber to the tower is expensive, and the cost might not be justified. People who live in these areas have no cable or DSL service, their only internet is satellite or cellular - the former has moderate speeds but terrible latency, the other has moderate latency but terrible speeds. But you think they shouldn't use this technology because they might lose internet when bad weather knocks down poles? I think most would be happy to have good internet 99.99% of the time and deal with a half day's outage once a decade when bad weather knocks down the poles feeding their nearby towers.

      Also, I hope you realize these towers that are being fed by T1s have those copper lines on poles at least part of the way, so they already depend on poles for their connectivity.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What everyone here seems to be missing

    is that the signal is NOT traveling on the power lines themselves. AT&T is using some novel technology they developed (and aren't very specific about) to have the signal travel "alongside" the power lines, using them as a form of waveguide. Thus it only works for above ground power lines, but since it isn't traveling in the conductors themselves it is completely different from any "internet over power lines" proposal you've heard about before.

    The article does correctly note that this will be used for backhaul only, no one is going to get internet from AT&T delivered over their power lines. It will be delivered wirelessly, mostly by LTE/5G but they could use other technologies like directional wifi to individual customers in certain areas.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: What everyone here seems to be missing

      It's not internet over power lines at all then.

      The talk of "waveguides" is bonkers. It's either microwaves just using towers to mount dishes, or wires for lower frequency RF.

      1. Fred Goldstein

        Re: What everyone here seems to be missing

        The article was wrong, indeed, to confuse this with BPL, which runs below 30 MHz. It is "over" power lines in the sense that a millimeter wave dish is placed at the tippy-top of the utility pole, higher above ground than (and thus literally over) the power lines, which occupy the top berth on a utility pole.

        But it is a waveguide-type hack: AT&T claims that the proximity of the wire (usually 15kv primaries) to the path of the mmwave signal reduces attenuation. It's sort of a passive conductor or refractor -- the physics have not been published, so far as I know. But the range is still mmwave, like a kilometer or less per hop.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What everyone here seems to be missing

          There is an antenna on every pole, the hops are much smaller than a kilometer. I wish they'd publish more detail about exactly what mechanism causes the wires to 'guide' the signal, but I suspect they don't want to for competitive reasons. And quite possibility even EE PhDs might have trouble comprehending it, as they make it sound like it is truly novel.

  9. 2StrokeRider

    Article says last mile will still be over phones, and since the carriers don't allow unlimited tethering on smartphones, bit of a waste.

    So perhaps they'll solve all the tech issues, and then sell us a tethering plan for $$$ per month, and then charge $$$ per gigabyte.....or maybe cable / fiber will reach everyone more cheaply.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      The 'last mile' will be over cellular, but not involve phones or tethering. AT&T is starting to roll out fixed LTE broadband in rural areas, which use frequencies they have licenses for separate from the LTE frequencies phones use. They claim the pricing and caps will be competitive with wired broadband plans from cable and DSL providers.

      You'll have an antenna outside your house (or inside if you are close enough to the tower) connecting to a bridge/router inside with ethernet out, just like if you had cable or DSL internet service.

  10. DCFusor

    Maybe it's cheaper

    I actually live in a mountainous farming community - Floyd County, VA, USA if you want to know.

    Around 20k people and one stoplight. I have to drive 15+ miles to even get to the *nearest* sidewalk.

    Near the one monopoly ISP (for a few counties around) there is fiber. Where I live best you can get is 4 mbit down and one up, for $85/month. DSL of course. I asked when they're going to get us fiber, as they've recently relaid a bunch of copper and some fiber out to remote DSL DSLAM boxes. The answer is "never", "don't hold your breath" or some variation. That's for the home. If I read right, for this you need a cellphone too? And data tethering? For who exactly is this cheaper? I'm feeling pretty ripped off as is.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2021