Anterix sells 900 MHz spectrum to LCRA

The Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) has been selling power to Texas utilities for decades, and now it is preparing to offer them private LTE as well. The agency will purchase a portfolio of 900 MHz spectrum licenses from Anterix for $30 million.  LCRA said it plans to build a private LTE network to replace its existing narrowband network, which also uses 900 MHz spectrum.

LCRA operates dams, power plants and more than 5,400 miles of transmission lines, and it wholesales electricity to more than 30 municipalities and electric cooperatives. Many of its customers also share its narrowband network, and LCRA said private LTE will offer them more flexibility and long-term security.

"The network will provide a host of upgrades that will benefit LCRA and our customers by significantly improving data transmission, overall communication capabilities and resilience, “ said Ken Price, LCRA’s chief operating officer, in a press release.

An LCRA spokesperson said it could take up to five years to roll out the new broadband network. The agency has not yet identified vendors to help it deploy the spectrum, but said it will do so in the coming year and will leverage the “Anterix ecosystem of partners” as appropriate. 

RELATED: Anterix, Federated Wireless pair 900 MHz with CBRS for utilities

For Anterix, the deal represents another payoff for the company that acquired 900 MHz licenses and waited patiently for the FCC to approve the band for private LTE. Anterix said it would lease its spectrum to utilities and it has done just that with several power providers, including AmerenEvergy and Xcel Energy. But the company is also selling some of the licenses, first to San Diego Gas and Electric and now to LCRA.

The LCRA deal also includes a spectrum swap. LCRA will assign some of its existing 900 MHz licenses to Anterix, and will pay $30 million for 6 MHz of spectrum (936.5 - 939.5 MHz paired with 897.5 - 900.5 MHz) in 68 Texas counties covering 73,000 square miles. Payments will be made over time as Anterix clears the spectrum of incumbent users.

"Under the FCC’s rules, in order to apply for a broadband license in the 900 MHz band, Anterix must ensure that the spectrum has been cleared of all incumbents," explained Chris Guttman-McCabe, Anterix chief regulatory and communications officer. "In most cases, this involves Anterix, at our cost, having the narrowband systems reconfigured to spectrum outside the broadband allocation – usually within 900 MHz, but sometimes in other bands.  From time to time, instead of reconfiguring a system, an incumbent will choose to sunset its wireless operations in the band." 

Anterix President and CEO Rob Schwartz noted in a press release that LCRA is a unique customer for Anterix in that it’s the first non-investor owned utility to use the company’s spectrum, and the first Anterix customer that manages water as well as power resources. 

Erik Andersen, VP business development at LCRA, said the organization’s first priority for the new network will be to serve its own operations and its existing 900 MHz narrowband customers, including municipalities, electric cooperatives, and transit agencies. Asked if LCRA will sell connectivity to internet service providers, Andersen said his organization will study other potential customers for the network, possibly including ISPs. 

LCRA is also well positioned to work with tower companies as they explore private network opportunities. Andersen said several tower operators purchase power from LCRA already, and he is looking to expand this business.