Anterix signs 900 MHz spectrum lease with utility Ameren, expects more deals in near future
Anterix recently announced its first 900 MHz spectrum lease, a 30-year deal with Ameren—a power utility serving most of Missouri and western Illinois—worth about $48 million that is expected to provide the spectral foundation for the first of many private LTE deals in the U.S., according to Anterix President and CEO Rob Schwartz.
Schwartz confirmed that the Ameren agreed to lease 900 MHz broadband spectrum from Anterix for 30 years, with a 10-year renewal option. The contract represents a significant step for Anterix, which initially proposed transitioning the 900 MHz airwaves from LMR usage to LTE usage in 2014—when the company was known as Pacific DataVision—before receiving FCC approval to make the change last spring.
“The material thing for us is that this is a pretty strong statement that we are here to stay, and we are as a strategic partner to Ameren,” Schwartz said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We intend to go well beyond spectrum in helping them think about how to get the most value out of the LTE network in their region, as well as helping the industry overall with this concept of a ‘network of networks.’”
In addition to providing spectrum to support private LTE networks, Schwartz said that he believes can help Ameren and other critical-infrastructure entities by helping them navigate the vendor-selection process, as well as fostering an ecosystem of solutions for critical-infrastructure entities.
“Just to be clear, the agreement that we have with Ameren is about leasing our spectrum for the long term,” Schwartz said. “But it contemplates that, in good faith, we’re going to figure out other ways in which we can be helpful to them, as they continue down the journey of building and owning their own private LTE network.”
Ameren was the first of several utilities to conduct a network trial using the 900 MHz broadband spectrum licensed to Anterix. Bhavani Amirthalingam, senior vice president and chief digital information officer for Ameren, explained how private LTE will play an important role in the future of the utility.
“We see 900 MHz private LTE as a vital component of our digitization strategy to support a wide range of benefits to Ameren and its customers, allowing for the eventual consolidation of over 20 of our legacy networks onto one platform,” Amirthalingam said in a prepared statement.
“Anterix has been a valuable partner in our pursuit of the critical communications layer of our digital grid. Over the next several decades, this private LTE network will advance the reliability and security of the electric grid through a range of broadband-enabled applications and services, including the integration of distributed energy resources to help us meet our net-zero carbon emissions goal by 2050.”
Schwartz echoed this sentiment, noting the increasing importance that renewable-energy sources are expected to play in the future.
“To connect all of these disparate sources of power—through solar and wind, to EV charging—you really need to have a robust, reliable, secure communications network,” Schwartz said during the interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “That’s a big part of what we think the solution set is for this private LTE network.”
In addition, utilities with private LTE networks will have new options as they try to thwart the growing threat of cyberattacks from individual and nation-state hackers, according to Schwartz.
“We’re looking a number of these really innovative companies that are building some phenomenal capabilities that are software-based and even hardware-based,” he said. “If you [officials for a utility] are putting a communications node on a pole that’s going to control a transformer—because it’s your network—you can actually put a physical piece of hardware that’s doing a level of monitoring or control.
“There are some really neat things that are out there. Because it’s not mobile, it doesn’t need to fit into a handset or a device—you have room to put another box on the pole. There are some really neat solutions that are best applied to some of these industrial users of private LTE, so that they can have this enhanced layer of security on top of what’s already a secure system with LTE.”
Ameren is not expected to be the lone user of 900 MHz broadband spectrum for long, as Schwartz said he expects Anterix to announce another deal or two by March 31.
“We see this as a tipping point,” Schwartz said. “With a utility that’s as smart and influential as Ameren [signing a contract], we do think that’s going to help accelerate the marketplace to understand to how to transact, how to get the spectrum, how to move forward and will join the collective action to bring private LTE to the utility marketplace.”
Anterix expects that utilities and other critical-infrastructure entities will utilize the 900 MHz broadband airwaves as a spectral foundation for private LTE networks, but the 3×3 MHz swath licensed to Anterix creates some limitations. As a result, Schwartz said he expects utilities will complement the 900 MHz airwaves by leveraging other available spectrum—notably, the CBRS band at 3.5 GHz—to support higher-bandwidth applications, such as like streaming high-definition video from multiple sources in given location.
Being able to develop and deploy LTE solutions that operate at 900 MHz and other spectrum bands should prove beneficial to critical-infrastructure network operators and vendors alike, according to Schwartz.
“We really see this Ameren deal as obviously being great for Anterix, but more importantly, as an inflection point of the market adoption—in utilities overall, but also for other industrials,” he said. “We’re watching all of the private LTE momentum, a lot of being it generated by the ecosystem that’s being developed for CBRS,
“We’re all in it together. And being one of the only nationwide low-band solutions for this, we’re really looking forward to building this network of networks to bring together utilities and other critical infrastructure to solve these really important problems.”