Accessing Licensed Spectrum for Future-Proof Utility Networks

When it comes to wireless connectivity for smart grid applications, utilities have predominantly utilized unlicensed spectrum bands rather than acquiring licensed spectrum. The reasons are many: licensed spectrum is expensive, many existing smart grid solutions use unlicensed spectrum, and to date these solutions have done the job well. As the Internet of Things (IoT) becomes pervasive, there are risks that unlicensed spectrum bands will become clogged. Data transmission may slow or become unreliable.

As such, spectrum ownership or other creative partnering or lease deals will become more attractive—or even critical—to long-term utility solutions. As with real estate, they are not making more spectrum. It always (eventually) rises in value and should be thought of as a long-term investment. There are many licensed spectrum options available to utilities—more than many may realize. And while networking investments are often driven by shorter-term rate case and regulator demands or specific application needs, licensed spectrum has advantages that will persist for utility owners (or leaseholders) for decades. As the world becomes increasingly connected, those with exclusive rights to spectrum will own an ever more valuable asset—one with the potential to become a real competitive advantage in the coming decades.

This Navigant Research report covers the options for and case studies of licensed wireless solutions for utilities and provides actionable recommendations for utilities. The study provides an overview of 17 licensed spectrum bands available for purchase or lease for utility applications and discusses the use cases and rationale for utility spectrum ownership over the long term. It explains the differences between leased and owned spectrum and describes emerging shared spectrum paradigms. The report also provides examples of utility spectrum purchases and discloses pricing trends. Private LTE options are discussed as well, including unlicensed LTE.

Key Questions Addressed:
  • What are the advantages of licensed spectrum for utilities?
  • Why will utilities increasingly need licensed spectrum?
  • What is spectrum sharing?
  • Which vendors own licensed spectrum for utility lease in smart grid deployments?
  • What spectrum bands are available for utility lease or purchase?
Who needs this report?
  • Utilities
  • Utility regulators
  • Communications infrastructure vendors
  • Communications service providers
  • Communications regulators
  • Spectrum owners and brokers
  • Smart grid solutions vendors
  • Investor community

Table of Contents

Spark

Context

Recommendations

Licensed, Unlicensed, and Shared Spectrum

Unlicensed Spectrum

Licensed Spectrum

Spectrum Sharing

Spectrum Bonding

Public Carrier Spectrum

Licensed Solutions Support Major Utility Investment

Owned Spectrum Options Are Many

Utility-Owned Spectrum Offers Better Security and Control

217 MHz-219 MHz Automated Maritime Telecommunications System (AMTS)

220 MHz National Rural Telecommunications Council (NRTC)

450 MHz-470 MHz

700 MHz

700 MHz A Block Guard Band

800 MHz Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR)

900 MHz Multiple Address System (MAS)

900 MHz Narrowband PCS (NPCS)

1.4 GHz (US)

1.8 GHz (Canada)

3.65 GHz

4.9 GHz

Microwave Frequencies

Third-Party Owned Spectrum Can Speed Time to Market

Pt2Mpt Solutions

pdvWireless

Carrier Spectrum

Shared Spectrum: 3.5 GHz: CBRS

There Are Multiple Appropriate Spectrum Bands for Private LTE

Spectrum Costs

Spectrum Ownership Is a Competitive Advantage

Unlicensed Band Will Inevitably Become Crowded

We Are Not Exaggerating

To Do This, They Will Need Spectrum

Utilities Need to Take Advantage of Licensed Spectrum Options and Coordinate Efforts at Standardizing

New Business Models and Services Will Almost Certainly Demand Licensed Spectrum

Decide Whether to Own or Lease

Leasing Offers Ease of Entry

Ownership Provides (Better) Control

Coordination Among Smaller Utilities Brings Market Sway

List of Tables and Figures

  • CINEI Eligible Markets
  • Space Data Spectrum Sales to Energy Market Participants
  • EWA/PDV Proposed Spectrum Reallocation
  • CBRS vs. Traditional Licensed and Unlicensed Spectrum Licenses

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