Anterix is building steam with utility companies, notching a third long-term lease for use of its 900 MHz spectrum in a 20-year $30 million agreement with power company Evergy.
Evergy gets exclusive access to 6 MHz of the low-band spectrum and plans to deploy private LTE to support grid modernization.
With the latest contract, Evergy joins Ameren and San Diego Gas & Electric as lessees of the 900 MHz held by Anterix. All three deals were reached in the past nine months.
Within 30 days after signing the deal, Anterix is receiving a lease payment of about $30.2 million for the initial 20-year term. Evergy has two 10-year renewal options, which could extend the term to 40 years for additional payments.
The electric utility covers about 3.88 million people across its 28,130-square mile service territory in Kansas and Missouri. Anterix is in the process of clearing incumbent users out of the broadband portion of the band and delivery of the spectrum will happen by county, starting by the end of June 2022.
Initially Evergy wants to use private LTE for resiliency-focused applications, centered on elements in its power facilities that detect and react when events like severe weather occur, according to Anterix president and CEO Rob Schwartz.
For example, line fault sensors and capacitor banks that help utilities maintain voltage throughout events like storms, and which connectivity is essential for, Schwartz told Fierce.
Evergy also is using private LTE with 900 MHz for SCADA communications, which is how the utility communicates with and monitors components throughout the network. Eventually new use cases will be built on top, utilizing data and analytics to aid decisioning in a shift to predictive rather than responsive maintenance and detecting problems before they become major issues. This could include detecting spikes in voltage outside the norm, or heat sensors and cameras used for thermal sensing within a substation to keep an eye on temperature.
“Those are very valuable things because they prevent catastrophic events very often,” Schwartz said.
LTE also provides low latency to respond in milliseconds, Schwartz noted, enabling decisions and important quick-paced changes to the network.
Momentum in the utility sector
A May 2020 move by the Federal Communications Commission handed Anterix a win when the agency voted to allow 6 MHz within the 900 MHz to be used for broadband.
The company is the largest holder of 900 MHz spectrum nationwide and has been courting utilities, which are interested in the spectrum for private LTE as they look to modernize and future-proof critical power grid infrastructure.
Anterix has been working to help foster that work, not only with spectrum but with packaged solutions and consulting, including developing an ecosystem of vendor partners that’s grown from 30 to more than 55 (including Cisco, Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, Qualcomm, Federated Wireless and others) in the last few months.
“The great demand we have in utilities is drawing in these world’s leading vendors and vice versa now,” Schwartz said. “The fact that we have this ecosystem is making utilities realize this is the place they should be focused on building their private communications networks.”
It’s also building on existing collaboration in the sector. Unlike most industries, utilities aren’t competitors and already have cooperative agreements, typically by region to help provide not just learnings to solve similar problems but infrastructure and other resources to one another in times of need.
That includes physical elements, spare parts, and equipment from neighboring utilities.
Anterix hopes to make 900 MHz the de facto standard for private LTE across the industry in the U.S. and has had positive momentum since last October. In addition to the three long-term leases the company is working with more than 50 other utilities within its pipeline, according to Schwartz, to see what 900 MHz and private LTE can do.
Evergy, Ameren showcase ‘network of networks’
Evergy’s service territory shares 25 counties with Ameren where Anterix is also leasing 900 MHz spectrum.
Schwartz said it’s the first example to show utilities’ collaboration the concept of a “network of networks” – where they can easily roam between private LTE networks using the 900 MHz band to help one another.
“This is really an extension of that working together, so it’s a natural thing for them to do and Evergy and Ameren are working together with our help,” Schwartz said, adding that Anterix’s role is to facilitate on a nationwide basis to ensure utilities can leverage each other’s deployments.
For example, he said that “when an Ameren truck rolls into Evergy’s territory to help them with some storm restoration, the communication systems in that truck and the devices in that truck are fully compatible, because it is the same spectrum band.”
And the more utilities that sign on, the benefits multiply with a network effect.
“Each one that joins increases the overall value that each of those utilities is getting out of it, because they’re going to be sharing not just the learnings but also the capabilities,” he said.
A coalition of now more than 10 utility companies formally came together in the Utility Broadband Alliance, founded by Anterix, earlier this year to promote the deployment of private networks for critical infrastructure. Dozens more have showed up to discuss and explore potential benefits.
Evergy and Ameren are both members of UBBA. As are the NY Power Authority and Xcel Energy – two other utilities that Anterix is involved in private LTE pilots with. Anterix, Nokia and Motorola are among UBBA technology members.
“There’s so much opportunity for the industry to center around a single standard and a single band,” Schwartz said. “And we’re really excited about how the industry is starting to show that they’re embracing that concept.
In addition to low-band 900 MHz, utilities have also shown interest in mid-band Citizens Broaband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum – both through priority access licenses (PALs) and general authorized access (GAA) use.
Just last month Anterix partnered up with CBRS player Federated Wireless to combine the companies’ know-how and spectrum capabilities.