Utilities soon could have the right to access spectrum in the 4.9 GHz band for broadband connectivity, an official for the newly named Utilities Technology Council (UTC) said last week during an IWCE’s Urgent Communications webinar examining communications migration challenges for utilities.

Brett Kilbourne, UTC vice president and deputy chief counsel, said the organization—formerly known as the Utilities Telecom Council—has a goal of creating a “spectrum home” for utilities worldwide, which would improve utility planning, interoperable communications, and economies of scale for cost-effective equipment. Kilbourne spoke during an Avtec-sponsored webinar, an archive of which is available online (registration is free).

In the U.S., UTC is pursuing spectrum opportunities for its utility members in several different bands, Kilbourne said. Working with FirstNet to share capacity on its proposed 700 MHz network is “feasible,” while the 900 MHz proposal from pdvWireless to transform current LMR airwave into a 3x3 MHz broadband swath geared toward the utility market is a “work in progress,” he said.

UTC also is pursuing efforts to share sub-2 GHz spectrum with federal-government incumbents, Kilbourne said. Although those talks are “very preliminary at this point,” the spectrum is in the proper frequency range, he said.

“Anything below 2 GHz is ideal, because that gives you the propagation you need to get around trees and buildings, and also cover wide areas,” Kilbourne said during the webinar. “It makes the network cost-effective, and it makes the performance better, in terms of reliability. But it’s very difficult to try to find enough spectrum below 2 GHz in a band or bands that are roughly contiguous to each other.”

But the greatest progress may be in the 4.9 GHz band, which currently is reserved for public-safety use, Kilbourne said.

“Even though it’s above 2 GHz, (4.9 GHz) could represent a pretty attractive opportunity for utilities in the near term, because it appears that the FCC is going to move forward on that and allow utility companies to have direct access to that band, so they would be able to license it,” he said. “We’re talking about 50 MHz of spectrum, so there’s oodles of capacity there, and there’s equipment that is already available for the band.”

Meanwhile, UTC is working beyond the U.S. borders with international organizations in an effort to harmonize utility communications spectrum on a worldwide basis, Kilbourne said.

“This isn’t something that we’re just doing in the United States,” he said. “We’ve got folks in Canada who are working on this, our UTC Latina affiliate is working on this. We’ve also got a European UTC that is working on that, as well.

“This is a coordinated effort around the world to try to access spectrum, so that not only do we have interoperability and standardization, but we’ve also got economies of scale and an ecosystem.”