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    Foundations for Transformation

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The Signs Are Everywhere

I have been working in the utility sector for more than 20 years and I have never seen the level of collective interest, focus and momentum for a new product that I see for private LTE.  That was evident in February 2023 at DistribuTECH in San Diego.  The signs were everywhere.  Not only were there over 17,000 attendees, but communications networks, specifically private LTE, was a main track topic with over a dozen sessions focused on it.  The Anterix booth was buzzing.  More than 30 of our Active Ecosystem members joined us in our booth providing utilities with demonstrations of the range of use cases that 900 MHz private LTE can support. Other booths throughout the show floor were also highlighting their private LTE plans – the focus was incredible.   

Utilities value solutions, and now more than ever, they acknowledge how important it is to seek out true, value creating partnerships that can achieve 1 + 1 = 10 results.  We’ve come to describe this in our business as delivering “More than Spectrum,” and we are firmly committed to the role we are playing in making 900 MHz-enabled LTE the de facto standard for private wireless broadband with utilities.  This means firm commitments to excellence in the utility field, to a diverse and growing ecosystem of partners, and to a passion that drives us each and every day—just as we saw again at DistribuTECH—to do good while we do well in partnering with this most critical of critical infrastructure industries.  

Though all that interest and engagement at DTECH was exciting to see, in retrospect it should also have been expected, given that it followed closely on the heels of 2022, a year when major forces aligned to build increasing momentum in the industry’s adoption of private LTE to support the modern grid technologies that will enable a more secure, reliable, and cleaner energy future.  As a well-established, trusted advisor to the industry with a burgeoning ecosystem program of 100+ participating technology companies, Anterix looks forward to helping more utilities achieve their grid modernization goals by joining industry leaders Ameren, Evergy, Xcel Energy, and San Diego Gas & Electric in embracing private LTE over 900 MHz band spectrum.

A Year of Industry Momentum

In 2022, the industry moved into a new phase of private LTE adoption—it is actually building out network infrastructure.  In September, early 900 MHz lessee Ameren inked a 10-year deal with Ericsson to construct its 4G/5G private LTE network across its Illinois and Missouri service territories, and the following month, Ericsson activated 20 cell sites for Evergy after two months of work on its 900 MHz private LTE network.  Evergy plans to complete its 900 MHz buildout in mid-2024 and then augment it with 2.5 GHz through the end of the following year.  With these major steps, the industry has moved from evaluation to deployment—and none too soon in light of many utilities’ impending decarbonization targets.

The push toward private LTE also received a major boost in the fall, when the Department of Energy issued its first guidance to begin implementing the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), enacted in 2021.  The industry focused particularly on DOE’s announcement of the Grid Resilience and Innovation Partnerships (GRIP) program, which will roll out $10.5 billion in grants over the next five years, including $3.8 billion for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.  Utilities across the country sharpened their pencils and submitted “concept papers” to DOE, describing projects to advance the modern grid, including the deployment of private LTE networks to enable a vast array of smart grid applications.  Anterix directly participated in four concept papers. With applications due this spring and awards negotiated in the fall, the industry may well see a substantial capital injection for private LTE in late 2023.

A quick look at last year’s biggest industry events also demonstrates utilities’ growing interest in private LTE.  Last May, at its first gathering since the pandemic began, DistribuTECH definitely raised the profile, with utilities and vendors amping up their focus on private LTE and how it can be used to enable game-changing applications for the modern grid.  The Anterix booth was a busy place, with demonstrations from a variety of Anterix Active Ecosystem partners.  And as suggested at the top of this post, the 2023 event just completed built substantially on that trend.

Another high-point event was the Utility Broadband Alliance (UBBA) Summit & Plugfest, hosted by Southern California Edison in October.  If you wonder whether the industry is focused on private broadband networks, consider this:  almost 500 attendees participated, including representatives from 20 of our nation’s top utilities and a broad set of ecosystem vendors.  With utility COOs, CIOs, CISOs and even some CEOs in attendance, the meeting was truly transformational, a red-letter date in the march toward a modern grid.  As Llewellyn King wrote in Forbes, “UBBA and the Plugfest showcase marked, I believe, a seminal moment in the history of private broadband LTE (4G) networks. This produced a celebratory atmosphere: A need was being recognized and filled.”

Add to those two the EPRI Electrification conference (1,500 attendees) in June and the gridCONNEXT event (major focus on communications for critical grid communications) in December, and you have a pretty good picture of where the industry was going in 2022. 

Anterix Powering the Industry

Perhaps the biggest moment of 2022 for Anterix was in October when Xcel Energy officially joined the 900 MHz private LTE movement.  Under its agreement with Anterix, Xcel will enjoy dedicated use of Anterix’s 900 MHz spectrum throughout Xcel’s service territory in eight western and midwestern states for an initial term of 20 years.  Xcel plans to use the spectrum to deploy a private LTE network to support its grid modernization initiatives for the benefit of its 3.7 million electricity customers and 2.1 million natural gas customers.  I believe the addition of a leading utility like Xcel is an indication of the industry’s movement toward the adoption of 900 MHz private LTE and the momentum fueling growth of the private LTE community.

And that community, importantly, is not solely comprised of utilities.  In May 2021, we launched the Anterix Active Ecosystem (AAE) program with an initial membership of 37 leading technology companies developing and bringing to market goods and services designed for deployment in connection with utilities’ 900 MHz private LTE networks.  Today, there are more than 100 companies in the AAE program, a strong indicator of the value of the communications platform and the market opportunity it represents for ecosystem vendors.  Through collaboration and innovation, these companies will work together to help enhance the value of 900 MHz private LTE networks for utilities and their customers, addressing specific use cases for today and into the future. 

2022 was also the year that Anterix stepped up its efforts to help utilities realize the full value of their new 900 MHz private LTE networks.  In May, we launched an integrated platform to demonstrate  the unique additional scale benefits that can be achieved via a “network” of individual private broadband networks. The foundational platform of this cloud-based 4G/5G architecture helps to ensure greater resilience and enhanced services between participating networks, including mutual aid, cybersecurity, shared infrastructure, and integration of distributed energy sources. The platform will also offer a development and innovation environment for AAE companies to drive products and services directly to utility network operators.  To help guide the AAE and keep it focused on solving real-life utility priorities, Anterix also created the Utility Strategic Advisory Board (USAB), comprised of top utility executives and industry leaders including Ameren, Dominion Energy, Evergy, Exelon, Northwestern Energy, Southern Company, the Utilities Broadband Alliance and Xcel Energy.

Also in 2022, we launched CatalyX, the new integrated platform’s first commercial solution designed to accelerate utility adoption of 900 MHz private LTE.  CatalyX is a turnkey connectivity management solution that helps utilities to streamline and de-risk the transition to a private broadband wireless network.  CatalyX simplifies connectivity management by integrating state-of-the-art SIM technology, device SIM management, and private to public roaming to help deliver the flexibility and security that utilities require.  It helps utilities take advantage of available coverage at any service location by enabling connection to utility private LTE networks and supporting roaming on multiple carrier commercial networks.

As with most big decisions, education is key—and utility private broadband communications is no exception.  Our Industry Insights webinar series is one of the major ways we try to provide that education, spotlighting experts from across the energy and telecommunications sectors as they discuss private LTE deployment strategies and utilities’ priority use cases.  Is mitigating wildfire damage a key issue for you?  Episode 15 in August focused on line monitoring solutions that help prevent line breakage, and Falling Conductor Protection, which senses and de-energizes a broken, falling line before it hits the ground.  (By the way, at the beginning of 2022 we collaborated with Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories on a white paper demonstrating the low-latency performance of 900 MHz private LTE to enable its Falling Conductor Protection solution.)  Looking for funding to support your deployment?  Learn about the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in Episode 16 (November).  And definitely don’t miss December’s Episode 17, where Xcel Energy describes its journey to 900 MHz private LTE adoption.

2022 also brought another great education opportunity—in November we participated in the Reuters Energy Transition North America event in Houston.  This event brought together more than 1,000 leaders from the entire energy value chain, including multiple leading utilities.  Anterix’s Chris Guttman-McCabe led a discussion on how to balance a clean, affordable, resilient electric grid along with Portland General Electric CEO Maria Pope and Enel Head of North America Enrico Viale.

It’s pretty clear from all of this that Anterix—particularly in 2022—has been strongly focused on helping utilities on their journeys to realizing the value and benefits of a private LTE network investment.    Nevertheless, requests for private wireless broadband continue to come in from sectors all across the economy.  In September 2022, we launched an alliance with Future Technologies Venture, LLC to integrate our 900 MHz spectrum with Future Technologies’ end-to-end digital transformation solutions.  With its wide customer base and range of integrated solutions, Future Technologies can help us respond to the growing interest in private wireless networks to address valuable use cases in a range of markets, including oil and gas, chemical, government, manufacturing, logistics, aerospace, mining, and smart agriculture.  Importantly, we fully expect innovation in these additional industries to carry over to benefit the electric utility industry, which remains our primary focus.

What’s Next for 2023?

It’s true that time is of the essence in making the clean energy transition.  For Anterix, that means continuing to build the momentum behind 900 MHz private LTE by helping utilities gain the modern communications capabilities they need to support the modern grid.  We will continue to educate, innovate, and collaborate across the energy and telecommunications sectors, driving to achieve our mission of enabling the private, secure, wireless broadband foundation on which the modern grid depends. And as DistribuTECH 2023 just demonstrated, it’s a foundation the industry seems increasingly moving to embrace.

Anterix is architecting a new foundation that enables the modernization of critical infrastructure for energy, transportation, logistics and others. Help us spread the word.

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