AT&T working on 5G wireless network using Air Gig

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- AT&T is working on plans for a 5G wireless network. It starts with technologies that will make your phone faster today.

Video, live streaming and VR - AT&T told a crowd of reporters that consumers are gobbling up data.

"We need more capacity ASAP," AT&T Radio Access Engineering Director Sinan Akkaya said.

It's the same dilemma Verizon faced a year ago when the Super Bowl came to the Bay Area.

Verizon's answer was small cells, hundreds of miniature cell towers practically hidden top San Francisco street lamps. Now AT&T is taking a page out of that playbook, even using the same contractors and the same city-approved design.

"Customers will feel immediately that the signal quality is much better," Akkaya said.

Small cells are perfect for spots where hundreds of phones are all on one block, but AT&T also announced a solution for rural areas that use poles that are already there.

They're calling it Air Gig. It fits on top of the wooden polls that carry power lines outside the city. "Take this into areas where fiber may not yet be deployed and it could be very expensive to deploy fiber, bury new cables," Access Architecture & Analytics VP Hank Kafka said.

Instead of fiber, Air Gig gets its connection from tiny radio waves sent along the power lines -- millimeter waves, like what they use to scan your body at the airport. And it draws power from the magnetic field of those wires, like the wireless charging on some smartphones.

It's still a few years out. "We see this as a step towards the 5G," Akkaya said.

5G is a standard that doesn't exist yet but AT&T is already announcing the first places they'll test it - Austin, Texas and Indianapolis by the end of the year.
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