PDV Buys Sprint 900 MHz Spectrum, Plans Nationwide PTT Network (9/16/14)
Tuesday, September 16, 2014 | Comments

By Sandra Wendelken
Pacific DataVision (PDV), a company led by former Nextel executives including Morgan O’Brien, acquired all of Sprint’s 900 MHz spectrum licenses — about 6 megahertz nationwide. PDV will use the spectrum to launch a nationwide push-to-talk (PTT) network in initial markets by first quarter 2015.

The value of the license acquisition was not disclosed, however, PDV recently raised more than $218 million in equity funding in a private placement with institutional investors. As part of the spectrum transaction, Sprint received $10 million of the spectrum purchase price in the form of PDV common stock at the same price per share paid by the institutional investors. Further, Motorola Solutions agreed to lease a portion of the spectrum from a PDV subsidiary.

PDV executives said the first phase of their business plan is to launch a nationwide two-way radio network. The service will target dispatch-oriented small and medium-sized businesses in the major metropolitan markets of the United States and will be offered primarily through Motorola Solutions’ authorized dealer network.

“We don’t propose to have interconnection to the public switched network,” O’Brien said. “It’s very much like the ESMR business back in the 1980s with the difference being we have a lot of enhanced functionality that we can add to it.”

O’Brien said the company is still evaluating which Motorola digital technology it will deploy. PDV will enhance the digital network with PDV’s cloud-based applications for mobile workforce communications.

“By acquiring Sprint’s nationwide spectrum at 900 MHz, we take on the challenge of making the most efficient use of that spectrum,” said Brian McAuley, chairman of PDV and a former Nextel CEO. “Morgan and I are proud of the role we played in building Nextel into a carrier focused on the needs of the enterprise community. With the availability of Motorola Solutions’ digital radio technology, we see an opportunity to incorporate PDV’s proprietary cloud-based mobile resource management solutions into a next-generation offering for businesses. These solutions increase productivity through the delivery of real-time information from and about mobile workers to their managers.”

The company will initially target small- and medium-sized transportation, distribution and construction workforces with plans to target mission-critical companies such as utilities and oil and gas firms in the near term.

“In our initial rollout, we’re interested in getting what you would consider traditional two-way services,” O’Brien said. “If those services appeal to critical infrastructure companies, fantastic. We are thinking more of mission-critical companies in the second phase when we start to look at the spectrum we bought and move that to broadband.”

O’Brien laid out his vision for a nationwide Long Term Evolution (LTE) network for critical infrastructure firms last year.

“We acquired from Sprint the top 20 – 25 markets, 60 percent of all the 900 MHz spectrum,” O’Brien said. “It’s fairly easy to conceptualize that 60 percent of spectrum becomes broadband, and the rest can stay narrowband. That’s the proposal, and we’ve been spending the last couple of months working with industry on something to file.”

He said a draft of an FCC petition is circulating among industry associations such as the Enterprise Wireless Alliance (EWA), the Utilities Telecom Council (UTC) and the American Petroleum Institute (API). The petition would ask the FCC to reconfigure the 900 MHz band to allow a 3-megahertz contiguous block for LTE. The remaining spectrum could be used for narrowband PTT services.

The 900 MHz band includes about 200 12.5-kilohertz channels for SMR. The band also comprises 199 channels for business/industry (B/I) licensees. Users of the band include large utilities, petroleum and energy companies, manufacturers and other mission-critical communications users. The plan would require incumbents to retune their equipment, not reband, O’Brien said.

“There is plenty of precedent for it, if you can make sure the incumbents are taken care of,” he said.

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