Utilities continue to pursue spectrum in multiple bands
Utilities representatives are working on multiple fronts in an effort to secure access to broadband spectrum that can be leveraged to enhance operations, particularly those relating to smart-grid developments, according to an official with the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC).
Last week, the Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee (CSMAC) recommended that the 1755–1780 MHz band be cleared of federal-user incumbents as a “high priority,” so the spectrum can be auctioned to commercial operators, according to reports. Meanwhile, the 1780–1850 MHz airwaves would be subject to a “longer-term focus,” so there is enough time to evaluate various reallocation and sharing options.
UTC has long advocated that utilities and other critical-infrastructure entities have shared access to the 1800–1830 MHz band. Ideally, federal officials would like to clear as much spectrum as possible to address the spectrum shortage that is cited repeatedly by the commercial-wireless industry.
If federal spectrum can be cleared on a nationwide basis, most Beltway sources expect those airwaves to be auctioned. However, there is considerable uncertainty whether all of the existing federal users can be cleared, said Brett Kilbourne, UTC director of regulatory services and deputy counsel.
“There is a fundamental question that has to be answered, which is: What do we do with the incumbents in that band?” Kilbourne said.
If incumbents cannot be cleared from the federal spectrum, the UTC sharing proposal may be perceived as the best option to improve utilization of the airwaves.
But that decision may not be made for some time. For this reason, UTC continues to seek language that would allow utilities to share access to the proposed 700 MHz public-safety LTE network. Many public-safety officials have voiced support for such a sharing arrangement, because utilities could provide valuable sites and funding needed to establish more robust systems.
If an arrangement can be reached that features suitable prioritization, utilities would be interested in sharing the proposed public-safety broadband system, Kilbourne said.
“Right now, 700 MHz is looking like much more of a near-term fix, but it’s probably 10 MHz of spectrum, possibly 20 MHz [if Congress reallocates the D Block to public safety], and it’s still going to be shared,” he said. “We’re not quite sure how much spectrum — in terms of actual capacity — that utilities are going to have access to.”
In addition to resolving the prioritization issues, another challenge to potential sharing arrangements is the fact that many analysts believe public-safety applications could use all spectrum in the first-responder band in metropolitan areas, which would mean sharing would not be possible in those locations.
“It’s not clear that [700 MHz is] going to be a nationwide solution for utility companies, which is the reason we’re still trying to pursue the federal side,” Kilbourne said.
Utilities also are asking federal officials to consider allowing spectrum access in lower spectrum bands, but addressing the needs of incumbent users again poses a challenge, Kilbourne said. In addition, he said utilities are monitoring a test network in Virginia that utilizes airwaves in the TV white spaces — spectrum that is plentiful in rural areas but may not be available in metropolitan locations.