Evergy becomes third utility to sign long-term spectrum lease with Anterix
Evergy agreed to a long-term lease of 900 MHz spectrum licensed to Anterix, yesterday announcing a $30.2 million deal that will give the utility access to the broadband airwaves to support the deployment of a private LTE system that is expected to enable critical smart-grid applications.
Under the agreement, Evergy will pay $30.2 million upfront to lease the 3×3 MHz of 900 MHz spectrum from Anterix for 20 years and has the option to exercise two 10-year renewals, meaning that Evergy could have access to the airwaves in its Kansas and Missouri territory for as long as 40 years.
Anterix President and CEO Rob Schwartz said the Evergy agreement is an indication of the interest that the utility industry has shown in the prospect of leveraging 900 MHz broadband spectrum to build private LTE networks.
“The demand side from the utilities is real and is moving forward,” Schwartz said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “We’re just wildly excited to have the leadership of Evergy joining the chorus of the industry to really help talk about how important this is and help pull others together to drive this forward
Anterix officials are working with more than 50 utilities, from municipally owned and rural co-op entities to large investor-owned organizations that serve the vast majority of meters in the United States, Schwartz said. Anterix expects to announce “several more” deals before the company’s fiscal year ends on March 31, he said.
Southern Company in the southeast U.S. was the first utility to announce plans to use LTE in its operations via its own licensed spectrum. Evergy marks the third utility deal announced by Anterix in the last nine months—following agreements with Ameren and San Diego Gas & Electric—and more agreements should become public in the near future, Schwartz said.
“With private LTE, there’s a commitment and an understanding now,” Schwartz said. “Thanks to Southern’s leadership and now with these three, there are now four entities in the utility space that are now relying on it. I just think that it’s kind of an unstoppable force at this point—at least I’m hopeful in that regard.
“We’re confident that we’re just going to see the industry moving forward here. The momentum we’re seeing is turning into a movement.”
Chris Guttman-McCabe, chief regulatory and communications officer for Anterix, agreed, noting that utilities’ public comments about their perceptions of private LTE have changed significantly during the past 12 months. Indeed, it was only in May 2020 that Anterix received approval from the FCC to transition its licensed 900 MHz LMR airwaves to a contiguous 3×3 MHz swath that could support LTE services.
“Think about where we were as a company as recently as a year ago, trying to convince people about private LTE,” Guttman-McCabe said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “Now, you’ve got trade organizations and trade associations saying, ‘That issue’s already been decided. What’s next?’”
That certainly is the case for Evergy, which was created in 2018 through the merger of local energy providers Westar and Kansas City Power & Light.
“Smart-grid technologies have a growing importance for our grid modernization efforts as we continue to transform our operations to a focus on clean, safe and reliable energy,” Kevin Bryant, Evergy’s executive vice president and chief operating officer (COO), said yesterday in a prepared statement. “Today’s agreement with Anterix provides a key component of the communications foundation required to help advance these initiatives, which are not only important for increased safety and efficiency, but are also crucial to maintain a resilient grid in the future.”
Evergy is similar in size and demographics to Ameren—the first utility to sign a long-term spectrum lease with Anterix—and actually shares a service-territory border with Ameren in 25 Missouri counties. This means that the two utilities will have the opportunity to conduct real-world tests of interoperability and other key “network-of-network” capabilities, according to Schwartz.
“The most fundamental example for utilities is mutual aid,” he said. “When a storm comes through one of their territories, they have existing agreements to help each other—the trucks roll to restore any system outages. Now, they have interoperability potentially between not just the mobile communications systems but also the devices they’re deploying on the same kind of networks.”
And Anterix is helping encourage players throughout the industry to develop an ecosystem of solutions to address some of the most challenging problems facing utility leaders today, Schwartz said.
“This is now a C-suite issue about, ‘How do we deal with climate change and renewable energy sources? How do we deal with our environmental commitments that we’ve made to our shareholders and the public? How do we deal with cybersecurity issues that are happening? How do we deal with these increasing storms and resiliency issues?’” Schwartz said.
“These first three [utilities that have signed deals with Anterix] are pioneering. I think soon, those who don’t do this are really taking risks by not putting in a system like to put in the right level of command and control of their infrastructure.”