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New private LTE networks will enable latest iteration of old communications method

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Peter Key's picture
Freelance Writer, Editor, Consultant Lansdowne, Pa.

I've been a business journalist since 1985 when I received an MBA from Penn State. I covered energy, technology, and venture capital for The Philadelphia Business Journal from 1998 through 2013....

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  • Oct 22, 2020 9:13 pm GMT

Proponents of private LTE networks say they will help electric power companies stride boldly into the future by enabling them to get the most out of their smart grid equipment and applications, integrate distributed energy resources and improve their cyber-security, among other things. What they often don't say, but what is equally true, is that the networks also will help electric power companies and others continue using a form of communications that dates back to the Great Depression.

Push to talk (PTT) initially was deployed on land mobile radio (LMR) systems, the first of which the Bayonne, N.J. police department began operating in 1933. PTT entered the cellular era in 1996, when Nextel launched a network featuring it that was based on iDEN (Integrated Digital Enhanced Network) technology, which had been developed by Motorola a few years prior.

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“It was a radio system masked as a phone system,” said Josh Lober, the president and CEO of SLA Corporation, a San Luis Obispo, Calif., company that does business under the name of its PTT offering, ESChat, which stands for Enterprise Secure Chat.

Sprint bought Nextel in 2005 and shut down its iDEN network in 2013. By then, PTT had evolved from PTT over cellular (PoC or PTToC), which was introduced in 2002, to Broadband PTT, which is in use today on equipment and devices that range from modern LMR systems to smart phones and tablet, laptop and desktop computers.

On some smart phones, PTT can be accessed through a virtual button on the screen; others have physical buttons that can be pushed to enable it. In the U.S., the three big wireless carriers — AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile — offer PTT and it’s available on Zoom, Slack and Microsoft Teams.

The challenge for developers of PTT technology is to make sure it enables communications between every type of device that can use it. That’s what ESChat does.

“Our focus is on fully secure integrated networks that include smart phones, radios and dispatch consoles,” Lober said in a recent phone call. “We do that in public safety, utilities, education, hospitality and logistics.”

Lober thinks PTT services will need to be able to enable communications between different types of equipment for many years, because unlike the flip phones that were in vogue when ESChat began marketing its service in 2008, LMR systems aren’t going away soon, if ever.

“These radios have a purpose so it’s not a question of this or this, it’s a question of this and this and creating a hybrid network where these things work together seamlessly,” Lober said.

ESChat and Samsung recently announced that ESChat has integrated its PTT offering with Samsung's Galaxy X Cover Pro smart phones, allowing the phone's users to take advantage of the XCover Pro’s dedicated PTT and Emergency Call buttons. The release goes on to point out that “Enterprise LTE networks are becoming the go-to option for customers in remote locations …” and that “Enterprise LTE networks operating in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) frequency band are also gaining traction in more traditional LMR markets such as hospitality, logistics, and utilities.”

Enterprise LTE networks are, of course, private LTE networks, which were the subject of a recent Energy Central section sponsored by Anterix. Formerly known as pdvWireless, Anterix, which was founded by the founders of Nextel, is the largest holder of licenses in the 900 megahertz band of the radio spectrum; is making the part of the spectrum to which it has rights available for long-term leases; and is working with more than 40 utilities and industrial companies on developing architectures for private LTE, according to Fierce Wireless.

The CBRS band is from 3.5 to 3.7 gigahertz, but it also is being used for private LTE networks. Anterix President and CEO Robert Schwartz, who wrote the introduction to Energy Central’s section on private LTE networks, told Fierce Wireless that Anterix sees private LTE networks in the CBRS band as complimentary to, not competitive with, private LTE networks in the 900 MHz band. Spectrum in the CBRS band is good for serving individual buildings and campuses while spectrum in the lower band helps cover wide areas.

Some utilities thought CBRS spectrum was valuable enough to buy priority access licenses for it in a Federal Communications Commission auction last summer. Southern California Edison paid $118 million for 20 licenses and Sempra paid $21 million for three licenses, according to a column for Fierce Wireless by Monica Paolini. Utilities that didn’t buy licenses for parts of the spectrum can use the 80 MHz of it that’s available under General Authorized Access. 

AT&T, for one, is counting on utilities and others doing just that. It recently announced that it was teaming with Ericsson to provide private wireless networks on shared CBRS spectrum and followed up that announcement with one saying it was doing the same thing with Nokia. AT&T’s agreement with Nokia enables it to offer Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud and Modular Private Wireless platforms, the latter of which can include technology that Nokia says supports voice and video communication on LTE devices and integrates with PTT services.

Peter Key's picture
Thank Peter for the Post!
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Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Oct 26, 2020

Peter thanks for the article.  For more about LTE networks and utilities, check out articles submitted as part of our Special Issue series that we published in August in partnership with Anterix -

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