Anterix, Federated Wireless pair 900 MHz with CBRS for utilities

Anterix and Federated Wireless are teaming up on private cellular networks for utilities, with work on a multi-band offering that combines dedicated 900 MHz spectrum and spectrum sharing expertise and services for licensed and unlicensed CBRS.

The collective offering will be led by Anterix, which is the largest holder of licensed spectrum in the 900 MHz band.

Anterix has been deeply involved in work with the utility sector, particularly electric and power companies, that want to leverage benefits of private cellular as they modernize operations and explore or implement new use cases for critical infrastructure. Some of those features include enhanced reliability, security, resiliency and performance.

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Federated is bringing its extensive knowledge, learnings and services with CBRS to the Anterix team’s skill set for a combined “one-stop-shop,” so to say, according to Federated Wireless founder and CEO Iyad Tarazi.

Anterix CEO and President Rob Schwartz told FierceWireless that the collaboration is the culmination of much work by both teams.

“It brings the benefit of wide-area low-band spectrum and the dedicated control you get with 900 MHz and this new capacity and flexible model you get with CBRS” both licensed and unlicensed, Schwartz said.  

Schwartz and Tarazi are both Nextel alum and have collaborated closely for several years.

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Utilities have notably shown interest in using mid-band spectrum in the shared Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band for private networks. As Monica Paolini, founder and principal of Senza Fili, pointed out in an article for FierceWireless, utilities were the most aggressive bidders at the FCC auction for CBRS priority access licenses (PALs). San Diego Gas & Electric spent $21 million for three PAL licenses and Southern California Edison paid $118 million for 20 licenses. There’s also general authorized access (GAA) use for CBRS, which doesn’t require a license.

Schwartz said they’re actively talking with utilities that won PAL licenses but Anterix has a pipeline of 50 utilities it’s working with on benefits of private LTE for grid modernization - and CBRS as an overlay is a part of most of those conversations.  

Dedicated low-band 900 MHz is seen as a good fit for wide area utility needs, while mid-band CBRS at 3.5 GHz offers more capacity. The forthcoming product will be a multi-band solution and targets users interested in PALs or unlicensed GAA access to CBRS.

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The primary business model for Anterix is leasing 900 MHz spectrum (after a win last year at the FCC) and it has already provided access to SDG&E for a private LTE network build, as well as Ameren in its first major lease agreement.

On the CBRS side, Federated Wireless plays a key role in enabling the unique sharing scheme with a commercial spectrum access system (SAS) that manages spectrum sharing on a dynamic basis across three tiers of users, and an environmental sensing capability (ESC) network. As one of five SAS administrators authorized by the FCC, Federated manages access and priority for users and protects against interference for incumbent federal users operating in the CBRS band.

Not just about spectrum

Although spectrum is key, both companies expect to innovate and bring more products to the utility segment.

“It’s not going to stop as just pure spectrum,” Tarazi said in an interview with Fierce.

Schwartz echoed that the partnership is about integrating capabilities of both partners into the needs of utilities, to solve valuable use cases. For example, SDG&E is using a private LTE system to deploy a wildfire mitigation solution where it can turn off a broken power line –  between the time a falling tree limb or wind hits it and the time it hits the ground – to preemptively help stop wildfires.

Tarazi said it’s clear utilities are a part of the market modernizing, but they also require a lot of support – with interest in CBRS as well as other options.

“We decided we want to make it easy for that community,” he said.

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Federated has over 200 customers, nearly 70,000 nodes in its systems and has added planning tools and analytics capabilities. It’s rolling out a spectrum exchange capability later this year, which will be part of the Anterix offering, to easily trade PAL licenses via software and APIs in about 100 milliseconds – compared to spectrum exchanges currently done via documents and lawyers. Tarazi explained some PAL licensees are realizing they have excess while others want to shore up their holdings. And it’s something utilities have been asking for, he noted, based on RFPs.

Devices and gear are also part of the picture that will develop over time, with a CBRS ecosystem pre-integrated in Federated and Anterix's Active Ecosystem Program with about 40 members. 

With the announcement, Federated is putting its energy and experience (which includes recent work on spectrum sharing for the DoD) into supporting Anterix to enable the utility sector. Both companies are in the process of responding to customer inquiries, as well as supporting certain pilots and deployments underway.

“It’s an important segment of their business, it’s important for the economy, it’s important for all of us and we want to make sure we give [the utility sector] the best support we can,” Tarazi said. “So we’re thrilled with the relationship.”