National wireless carriers AT&T and Verizon topped the list of winners of the FCC's first-ever auctions of fifth-generation (5G) wireless broadband licenses. The auctions, which encompassed millimeter wave frequencies in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands, were completed last week.
Capping an auction process that began last November with the sale of Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service licenses in the 28 GHz (27.528.35 GHz) band, the FCC on Monday published the results of both the 28 GHz auction and the 24 GHz sale which, together, reaped gross winning bids in excess of $2.7 billion. Known as Auction 101, the 28 GHz sale ended in January with gross bids of $702.6 million on 2,965 licenses. The 24 GHz auction (known as Auction 102) began on March 14 and ended on May 28 with gross winning bids of $2.024 billion on 2,904 licenses. In keeping with policies announced in advance of the 28 GHz auction, the FCC withheld the identities of the 28 GHz auction winners until the 24 GHz sale was completed.
AT&T stood at the top of the 24 GHz (Auction 102) winner list, posting total bids of $982.5 million on 831 licenses covering 383 partial economic areas (PEAs) nationwide. The second-place ranking for Auction 102 went to TMobile US with bids of $803.2 million on 1,346 licenses encompassing 400 PEAs. (T-Mobile also spent $39.4 million on 865 licenses covering 864 markets during the 28 GHz auction.) Other notable winners in Auction 102 included (1) U.S. Cellular Corp., which posted winning bids of $126.6 million on 282 licenses covering 102 PEAs, (2) Starry, Inc., an emerging provider of Wi-Fibased fixed wireless broadband services, which offered $48.5 million for 104 licenses in 51 PEAs, and (3) Windstream Holdings, which bid $20.4 million for 116 licenses in 40 PEAs.
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As for the 28 GHz auction (Auction 101), Verizon led all participants with total posted bids of $505.7 million for 1,066 licenses in 863 markets. (Verizon also posted winning bids of $15 million for licenses spanning ten PEAs during the 24 GHz auction.) Second place went to U.S. Cellular, which bid $129.4 million for 408 licenses in 362 markets. In addition to T-Mobile, other notable bidders during the 28 GHz sale included (1) Windstream, which bid $6.2 million on 106 licenses in 106 markets, and (2) FTC Management Group, a small business designated entity (DE) which offered gross winning bids of $4.5 million (adjusted to a net amount of $3.8 million to reflect the 15% bid credit offered to eligible DEs) for five licenses in five markets. Among the 33 entities that won licenses during the 28 GHz auction, 21 (including FTC Management) received DE bid credits. Fifteen out of 29 winning bidders received DE bid credits during the 24 GHz sale.
On December 10, the FCC is scheduled to launch auctions of millimeter wave licenses in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands. Encompassing 3,400 MHz in available spectrum assets, this upcoming sale is expected to rank as the largest auction in the FCC's history. Emphasizing that "American leadership in 5G means deploying more airwaves for the next generation of wireless connectivity," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai told reporters that "the successful conclusion of our nation's first two high-band flexible, mobile-use spectrum auctions is a critical step" in achieving that goal.