As the utility industry continues to lobby for more spectrum to support the smart grid and its other communications needs, WiMAX vendor Airspan Networks' move to seal a deal with LightSquared to exclusively market the latter's 1.4 GHz spectrum for smart-grid services could help ease the shortage.

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 to other markets ripe for machine-to-machine, or M2M, services.

Earlier this month, the Utilities Telecom Council joined a chorus of comments filed with the Department of Energy that recommended that utilities and other critical infrastructure industries, such as pipeline companies, need access to spectrum to support their communications needs. Most utilities want to build and operate their own private networks to lessen their reliance on partnerships with commercial mobile operators, which increasingly are marketing their services to the utilities market.

Paul Senior, Airspan's chief technology officer, said that the company has been chasing after the 1.4 GHz band for some time. "We've been trialing this technology for several years, and through those trials, we've optimized products to fit this spectrum," he said.

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

Even if LightSquared itself 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. It plans to increasingly focus its solutions on the access piece, Senior said. The strategy is to team with partners to obtain the pieces it needs to provide a complete solution to utilities.

"Smart grid will be a major part of our business going forward," Senior said. He also said that utility companies have been receptive to Airspan's plans.

"Even if the utility … can get spectrum, that doesn't undermine what we're doing," Senior said. "You can't have enough spectrum."

Airspan said it eventually will set its sights on offering infrastructure to other industries, such as transportation and public safety.

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