pdvWireless changes name to Anterix as company awaits FCC ruling on 900 MHz private broadband proposal
900 MHz spectrum holder pdvWireless has changed its name to Anterix as the company waits for the FCC to rule whether it can realign its LMR spectrum into a 3×3 MHz band that can support private LTE networks that would be deployed for utilities and other critical-infrastructure entities.
Anterix CEO Morgan O’Brien said the company wanted to change its name from pdvWireless to reflect its proposed directional change from a two-way radio/dispatch business to an entity that enables broadband LTE. The base of “Anterix” is a Latin word that is relevant to the company’s vision, he said.
“This is such a different way of looking at spectrum—broadband spectrum—that we thought it was a good idea to have a clean break from the past,” O’Brien said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We thought it was better to come up with something that was new and a little easier to identify the direction we want to head in now.
“We were very happy to find this word, because it means ‘buttress’ or ‘foundation. Therefore, it is an architectural element, just like we believe wireless is an architectural element that is foundational for the evolving grid … We feel like it fits perfectly.”
Of course, the Anterix vision of realigning its 3 MHz of 900 MHz airwaves designated for LMR use into a contiguous swath of spectrum that can be used to support LTE operations still awaits FCC approval,
The notion of transitioning 900 MHz narrowband spectrum—purchased from Sprint, when the carrier no longer needed the frequencies to support operations as part of the 800 MHz rebanding initiative—initially was proposed in the fall of 2014. After the FCC issued a notice of inquiry on the proposal in August 2017, pdvWireless revamped its proposal in May 2018 to give prospective enterprise customers greater control over the broadband LTE networks serving them.
O’Brien said he generally is pleased with the comments filed in response to the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on the matter, noting that most commenters indicated that there is a need for utilities and other critical-infrastructure entities to have access to spectrum that enable smart-grid and other network-management technologies.
Potential interference between narrowband and broadband services within the 900 MHz band initially was the primary objection cited when the transition was proposed almost five years ago, but O’Brien said he does not believe that is a significant concern now.
“It appears to us—and we had several independent engineering firms corroborate this for us—that you can operate narrowband and broadband in relatively straightforward way, because of the way that the technology is structured,” he said. “With the generally high-quality receivers in the incumbent land-mobile systems, these systems can operate with minimal separation. I think the major impediments have been resolved.”
Many commenters also expressed the need for users to have access to the Anterix spectrum as soon as possible, but O’Brien declined to speculate when the FCC might consider approving the matter.
Last year’s decision to propose that users of the Anterix spectrum could have greater control over the deployment and operation of the network—in some cases, with Anterix simply leasing the spectrum—has proven to be helpful in gaining utility support, according to O’Brien.
“The really big guys are used to doing those kind of things for themselves,” O’Brien said. “In fact, I think it’s a great benefit when they have the absolute level of control. I understand that. I think it makes sense.”
In addition to the autonomy, this structure means that investor-owned utilities that are regulated by state commissions can declare the spectrum lease and network-deployment investment as a pure capital expenditure, which makes the arrangement much more attractive financially for the utility, O’Brien said.
“It’s generally policy that they maintain autonomy, so they can have a mission-critical level of operation and that they have utility-grade communications links,” O’Brien said. “Another important point … is that their capital investments can be incorporated in the rate base, and they can earn not just a recovery of that investment; they get a recovery of that investment, plus a return. that’s the beauty of being able to structure this in a way that it goes into the rate base.
“And, my own sense of things is that the ratepayer—essentially every citizen who has electricity—understands that modernizing the grid to make it more secure, more resilient and more reliable is worth an investment.”
O’Brien said that utilities always have the opportunity to leverage connectivity solutions from commercial carriers. However, while these systems are “fantastic” for consumer use, a private-network structure better meet the unique requirements of critical utility operations, he said.
“It is the essence of those [commercial-carrier] systems that they are connected, and they are connected at various points with the Internet, and—therefore—they’re vulnerable to cyberattack,” O’Brien said. “We’re looking at the exact opposite phenomenon, which is a private system that is not connected with the Internet that is architecturally, fundamentally more secure. And, it’s run by—and access to do it is run by—the utilities in a way that they control the rules of access and priority [of network traffic].
“So, they control what happens when there is a breach of the system or when there is a fault somewhere along the lines. It’s an essential tool using the exact same technology as the cellular guys, but architecturally, it’s separated from these various points of vulnerability.”
O’Brien is best known for being the co-founder of Nextel Communications, which leveraged iDEN technology to popularize enterprise push-to-talk functionality. Users of the Anterix 900 MHz spectrum will find a much more robust device ecosystem than Nextel had, he said.
“We’re Band 8, and Band 8 in the rest of the world—Europe and Asia—is just a regular cellular band at 900 MHz,” O’Brien said. “So, there are thousands of devices that are Band 8 capable.
“When we were Nextel, we had to invent a technology. We then had to go through the learning curve, the price curve, the volume curve—all the pain, sweat and agony, and we never could piggyback [developments for other carriers]. Here, we use LTE, and—with seven or eight years of development—we have literally thousands of devices and chipsets that already operate … There’s complexity to certification and some of the other tweaks. But, in terms of an ecosystem and chipsets, a lot of that is done and available. It’s a great advantage.”