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High-Tech Giants Collaborate To Launch Broadband Ecosystem For Utilities, Based On Anterix-Held Spectrum

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There is a new constellation in the utility sky. It is a grouping in a loose association, called by its founding members “an active ecosystem,” of 37 high-tech companies committed to guiding the electric utilities in the digital age.

It has been organized by Anterix ATEX (NASDAQ), a Woodland Park, N.J.-based company which is helping utilities and other industrial enterprises build safe communications with private broadband networks at the 900 megahertz spectrum.

Anterix, the largest licensed holder of 900 MHz spectrum, has already signed up the Midwest utility Ameren and San Diego Gas & Electric. The Federal Communications Commission has approved 11 experimental licenses at the 900 MHz spectrum.

The new group of top-drawer technology companies will be, I believe, transformative. With so much high-tech muscle, from ABB to Motorola, it is a utility communications brain trust.

Smorgasbord of Technology Expertise

This group sets in front of the utilities a smorgasbord of technological expertise that can guide them through the data-driven future and assist them in building out private broadband networks with LTE (4G). 

“Think of it as an app community for utilities,” says Clinton Vince, chair of the U.S. Energy Practice at Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. “This is a big deal.”

Rob Schwartz, president and CEO of Anterix, said, “I am ecstatic. Our Anterix Active Ecosystem Program will provide members with the collaborative environment needed to further develop broadband solutions — entirely under the utilities’ control.”

In my many years of writing about the electric utility industry, I have never encountered anything as ambitious as this group. Its 37 members, plus Anterix, represent a new vision of the utility future and how to get there.

The group has been formed at a time when utilities are facing change, or a reset, across the range of their activities. They are leaving their comfort zone of central generation for a world of new generation, new power flows, new storage, and with it structural and political challenges.

So far, the winds of change have been felt as a gentle breeze. But they are picking up now and threaten to be at gale force before long, demanding better communications to manage the new order of things.

Joe Weiss, an astute observer of the electric utility industry and a veteran of the Electric Power Research Institute, says the future utility “will be dominated by data and the communications tools that manage it.”

Data, sometimes described as the new oil, needs cybersecure pathways, which is what private networks offer. Speeds are so fast on them that a severed electric line may be known in the utility operations center before the line hits the ground — vital in battling the threat of wildfires.

Michael Atkinson, senior vice president, North America, Grid Automation for Hitachi ABB Power Grids, said, “As the utilities and industry focus on digitalization, renewables integration, and our carbon-neutral future, intelligent systems and solutions place new demands on communication networks.”

Finding More Power

EPRI President Arshad Mansoor told me recently that communications and data management will go a long way in the future in getting more out of existing infrastructure, as well as serving new generation and distribution. This will extend to such embedded parts of the utility as long-running hydro projects and nuclear power plants. The technologies clustered around data will “wring more out of everything,” he told me.

Chris Guttman-McCabe, Anterix chief regulatory and communications officer, and himself a lawyer, told me that the collaboration between the technology giants doesn’t present a challenge from antitrust statutes as the ecosystem members will remain fiercely competitive despite their affinity. 

The following companies are in the Anterix ecosystem: 4RF, Accelleran, Atomation, Atos, BEC Technologies, Bittium, Burns & McDonnell, Cisco, CMG Consulting, Council Rock, Druid Software, Encore Networks, Ericsson, Expeto, GE, Hitachi ABB Power Grids, Index AR Solutions, Itron

ITRI
, Kognitiv Spark, LineVision, Motorola Solutions

MSI
, Multi-Tech Systems, Nighthawk, Nokia, Onclave Networks, Qnet, Qubitekk, Redline Communications, Sentient Energy, Sequans, Sierra Wireless, Sonim Technologies

SONM
, Tecore Networks, Telit, Tilson, u-blox, and West Monroe Partners.

Between them, they will light up the digital utility sky.

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