Airspan scores smart grid coup

WiMAX vendor Airspan Networks scored a coup in the smart grid arena last week by making an agreement with LightSquared to exclusively market the operator's 1.4 GHz spectrum.

LightSquared is owned by private equity firm Harbinger and is planning a wholesale-only LTE network using satellite and terrestrial spectrum, but the 1.4 GHz band won't be part of its LTE wholesale offering. Instead Airspan will sell a package of spectrum and network infrastructure to the utility market and later other markets in need of M2M offerings.

The move is a big one for Airspan, which is capitalizing on the fact that the utility industry has been lobbying federal regulators for spectrum to build smart grid networks. It's clear that most utilities want to build and operate their own private smart grid networks.

"For so many years utilities have wanted access to licensed spectrum and have been denied," Paul Senior, Airspan's chief technology officer, told FierceBroadbandWireless. "We've been trialing this technology for several years, and through those trials, we've optimized products to fit this spectrum."

Senior didn't give specifics about Airspan's deal with LightSquared but indicated the company "made a large investment" in order to have exclusivity to LightSquared's spectrum. 

"We've been talking to LightSquared for quite a long time," Senior said. "This band has changed hands and been through many, many transitions. We've been chasing it for several years ... This spectrum is not well suited to a mobile carrier rolling out LTE but for building a private network its almost perfect."

What if LightSquared goes out of business? Senior said Airspan's arrangement would give utilities at least a 27-year lease that can be extended, making it a guaranteed lease. "Once that is in place, there are certain protections," Senior said.

At this point, Airspan is optimized for the middle-mile piece of the smart-grid network with plans to increasingly focus its solutions on the access piece. "We are a radio technology company, and our strategy is to team with partners that can do the pieces we wouldn't naturally do," Senior said. "Smart grid will be a major part of our business going forward."

For more:
- see this release

Related articles:
GE announces first US WiMAX-based smart-grid pilot
Will WiFi and WiMAX become beneficiaries of the smart grid?
Smart grids: The next wireless goldmine?
FCC looks to bridge broadband, smart grid in national broadband plan

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