wireless lanPlans could be shaping up for broad deployment of wireless networks dedicated to supporting electric utility companies as the utilities modernize their infrastructure to support the smart grid. The potential enabler of these plans is Access Spectrum, a company Telecompetitor covered 18 months ago that holds 2 GHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz upper A-block covering about half of the U.S. (not to be confused with the 700 MHz lower A-block, where many small wireless carriers hold licenses.)

Access Spectrum Electric Utility Deal
One electric utility that is enthusiastic about the possibility of broad utility industry deployment in the upper A-block is Salt River Project, a community-based not-for-profit power utility that serves the greater Phoenix metropolitan area.  Salt River Project announced yesterday that it has purchased a 700 MHz upper A-block license covering Phoenix and Mesa, Arizona – and in an email to Telecompetitor, Salt River Project Senior Principal Engineer Ron Taylor said “Our hope is that a large number of utilities and other critical infrastructure providers purchase this spectrum in their own geographies so that equipment economies of scale can help make field area networks a reality for everyone.”

The purpose of a field area network, Taylor explained, is to “provide connectivity to allow automation/ monitoring of our ‘downline’ distribution equipment like transformers, switches, capacity banks, etc. that reside between the substations and the customers.” Noting that Salt River Project already has automated metering at customer locations, Taylor said “this is for everything between the substation and the meter.”

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Utility companies that have installed wireless equipment to monitor their networks are able to respond more promptly when problems occur and may even be able to prevent outages in some cases.

The network that Salt River Project plans to deploy will use fixed wireless technology, Taylor said. The company has no plans to offer commercial services using the spectrum from Access Spectrum, he noted.

Access Spectrum Technology Options
No one at Access Spectrum was available for comment yesterday. But when Telecompetitor covered Access Spectrum 18 months ago, the company had just obtained permission from the FCC to use its spectrum for either TDD or FDD communications. Initially the band had been limited to FDD communications, which offers equal bandwidth upstream and downstream, but by gaining the ability to use TDD the spectrum could be used to provide more bandwidth in the downstream direction.

At that time Access Spectrum envisioned the spectrum being used for a variety of purposes including secure financial transactions, dedicated short messaging apps and telematics, as well as for smart grid communications.

In a press release announcing the Access Spectrum/ Salt River Project deal, Salt River Project notes that it is working with other utilities, equipment vendors and standards entities to “start the process of designing and building” equipment suitable for use in the 700 MHz upper A-block.

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