The 900 MHz spectrum band could provide the utility industry with a nationwide collective of connected private LTE networks, according to the largest holder of licensed spectrum in the band. Anterix (formerly PdvWireless) is on a mission to license its spectrum to utilities and has just announced its first major customer. Ameren, a utility serving customers in Missouri and Illinois, will have exclusive rights to use Anterix's 900 MHz spectrum in its service territory for the next 30 years.
“This Ameren agreement is kind of the turning point for us, it’s an inflection point," said Anterix CEO Rob Schwartz, adding that more than 40 different utilities have expressed interest in private LTE. In May, the FCC freed up six megahertz in the 900 MHz band for broadband, paving the way for utilities to deploy private LTE to support smart grids, and for Anterix to monetize its spectrum holdings.
Anterix wants to help utility customers connect to one another as they deploy private LTE. "This sector, uniquely, works together. They don’t compete with each other," said Schwartz. He believes utilities can cooperate to create an ecosystem of industry-specific devices and applications that use LTE. "What we have seen as we traveled around the country talking to utilities is that they were individually solving these same problems, and so we’ve worked to bring them together," he said.
Schwartz envisions a "network of networks" that can be created as utilities connect their private LTE networks to share technology and data, creating new opportunities for artificial intelligence to improve the performance and reliability of smart grids. Anterix worked with the analysts at Guidehouse Insights to study the potential benefits of a collective of utility networks.
Ameren is clearly a leader in the private LTE arena. The company has trialed 14 distinct use cases for private LTE, using 900 MHz spectrum and Nokia's radio equipment. Along with Anterix, Ameren is a founding member of the Utility Broadband Alliance.
"We see 900 MHz private LTE as a vital component of our digitization strategy to support a wide range of benefits to Ameren and its customers, allowing for the eventual consolidation of over 20 of our legacy networks onto one platform," said Bhavani Amirthalingam, SVP and chief digital information officer for Ameren. She said one of the values private LTE will bring is the integration of distributed energy resources, which will help Ameren meet its net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.
Unlike traditional power plants, renewable energy sources like wind turbines are often in disparate locations which need to be connected. Private LTE is a good solution for utilities because it combines the ecosystem of a nationwide commercial technology with the control that a private network can offer.
For Ameren, cost control was another important factor in the decision to use private LTE. The company has said that it was concerned about the cost of relying on public carrier networks as it builds out its digital grid.