pdvWireless Refocuses on 900 MHz Spectrum Leasing, Forms New Utility Alliance
Tuesday, February 05, 2019 | Comments

Morgan O’Brien’s pdvWireless continues to evolve with an updated business model that includes leasing the company’s 900 MHz spectrum and consulting on private Long Term Evolution (LTE) as it continues to await an FCC decision on its more than four-year-old plan to realign the 900 MHz band for broadband operations.

To that end, pdvWireless is one of the founding members of the newly announced Utility Broadband Alliance (UBBA), a group that aims to advance the development and adoption of dedicated private broadband networks for utilities. The founding members of UBBA include three utilities: Ameren, National Grid and Southern Linc. Other founding members include Burns & McDonnell, Cisco Systems, Encore Networks, Ericsson, Federated Wireless, General Electric, Motorola Solutions, Multi-Tech Systems and Sierra Wireless.

"I'm excited to have a vehicle for utilities to collaborate on the inevitable deployment of broadband technologies,” said Cole Crews, a consulting engineer at Ameren. “The focus that this group brings will allow all interested parties to share successes so that they may be replicated across the industry, bringing even more value to the investments in broadband deployments so we can better serve customers.”

Ameren, a utility with customers in Missouri and Illinois, deployed a pilot private LTE network using pdvWireless 900 MHz spectrum and an experimental license. The utility is required to deploy smart switches that actively route power in times of need. The pilot will demonstrate private LTE’s possibilities to Ameren’s management and state utility regulators, said Rob Schwartz, pdvWireless chief operating officer (COO).

O’Brien, the CEO of pdvWireless, said although the company’s original plan of becoming a commercial broadband carrier focused on the critical infrastructure industries (CII) market still stands, the company also plans to lease its 900 MHz spectrum to investor-owned utilities (IOUs) that prefer private networks and can raise capital to deploy the technology.

“Municipals and co-ops are smaller and may not have the same ready access to capital,” O’Brien said. “We might have a more carrier-like relationship with them. But now we’re focused on IOUs because they represent something like 75 percent of the meters.”

Schwartz said advising utilities on the benefits of broadband will be a large part of the company’s evolved business model. pdvWireless will help utilities understand how to best use standards to solve current problems and future proof their need, including applications that run on the network. “Our relationship starts with leasing the spectrum, and then we see our role being greater than that,” he said.

Companies that offer Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) equipment in the 3.5 GHz band, including Federated Wireless, are part of UBBA. pdvWireless’ 900 MHz spectrum will be the foundation of the utility private wireless networks because of its ability to penetrate buildings, with the possibility to overlay CBRS. Ameren included a CBRS overlay in its pilot, and the spectrum works well in dense areas and for rural broadband, Schwartz said.

“900 MHz is the foundation for a wide-area coverage network that gets supplemented by other spectrum,” O’Brien said. “We have plenty of capacity for nonvoice fixed data bursts, but at the end of the day, we see it as a baseline for utilities.”

There is a global supply of LTE devices with band 8, the 900 MHz spectrum, particularly in Asia. O’Brien said many smartphone chipsets include band 8, and the spectrum can be used in the United States.

O’Brien said he is confident the FCC will in the near future adopt a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) favorably inclined to pdvWireless’ 900 MHz spectrum plans for broadband, and the commission will ask the industry what the protection criteria should be for narrowband operations in the band.

“You’ll see more on the record after the NPRM and what the requirements are going to be on broadband versus narrowband operations when they overlap,” O’Brien said.

Last month, pdvWireless announced a partnership with fellow UBBA initial founding member Southern Linc on private broadband. In January, pdvWireless also announced plans to transfer its MOTOTRBO trunked network customers in eight metropolitan markets to two other digital SMR network providers, eliminate 30 percent of its workforce and close its San Diego office.

UBBA plans to facilitate knowledge sharing among members, craft industry-centric solutions, foster working groups among utilities and industry partners, and help members influence policy through rate and business cases that will provide capital for infrastructure investment.

“GE is excited to be working with pdvWireless and other members of UBBA,” said Chris Trabold of GE Power’s Grid Solutions business. “As utilities expand their grid modernization efforts, the sheer volume of devices and data, including video, is expanding rapidly. We see private LTE technology delivering efficient and secure broadband capacity to meet that growing need. UBBA will provide a great forum to refine this technology for the utilities.”

“Utilities have diverse spectrum needs; there is no one-size-fits-all solution,” said a spokesperson for the Utilities Technology Council (UTC), which also represents utility communications. “As UTC has long highlighted, the need for utility broadband deployment is increasing as our members integrate more distributed energy resources and deploy sensors and other cutting-edge technologies on both their transmission and distribution grids to enhance reliability, resiliency, efficiency and affordability. Unfortunately, the FCC has typically not recognized the criticality of utilities in its spectrum policies — a position that must be revisited. We welcome more voices highlighting the challenges utilities face in getting access to spectrum.”

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