Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile top spenders at mmWave 5G spectrum auction

The FCC’s largest spectrum auction to date – making 3,400 megahertz available – officially concluded, garnering $4.47 billion in net proceeds for millimeter wave 5G licenses, with Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile spending top dollar.

The assignment phase ended last week following the clock phase, with $7,558,703,201 billion in net bids for spectrum licenses in the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands. The net proceeds amount accounts for about $3.08 billion in incentive payments for existing licensees in the 39 GHz band. 

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As part of the 14,144 licenses made available, incumbents in the 39 GHz band (including the three largest carriers) committed to relinquish their spectrum usage rights in exchange for incentive payments determined by bidding in Auction 103.

Auction results show Verizon, bidding under Straight Path Spectrum LCC was the top spender. Verizon won 4,940 licenses across 411 PEAs after bidding about $3.4 billion. Verizon received an incentive payment of about $1.79 billion. Verizon in 2018 purchased Straight Path Communications and its extensive portfolio of 38 GHz and 28 GHZ spectrum licenses for $3.1 billion.

Brian Goemmer, president of AllNet Insights & Analytics, noted that Verizon only purchased spectrum in the MN bands (37.6-38.6 GHz and 38.6-40 GHz), including 16 channels or 1600 MHz of spectrum in all of the Ohio markets where T-Mobile owns 28 GHz spectrum licenses. Verizon typically scooped up 10 channels in most of the available markets nationwide, he observed.  

AT&T, bidding under FiberTower Spectrum Holdings, won 3,267 licenses in 411 PEAs, bidding about $2.38 billion. Including incentive payment, AT&T spent about $1.18 billion. Like Verizon, AT&T only targeted the MN bands, Goemmer noted, typically winning 8 channels in each market.

T-Mobile bid about $931 million to win 2,384 licenses in 399 PEAs, purchasing both 47 GHz and 37-39 GHz spectrum. Its incentive payment was about $59,000. 

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Sprint, under ATI Sub, only won 47 GHz spectrum, spending about $114 million for 127 licenses in 38 PEAs. Goemmer observed that Sprint received 5 channels or 500MHz in the top 10 PEA markets.

Dish Network, bidding as Window Wireless LLC, spent $202.5 million for 2,651 licenses in 416 PEAs.

U.S. Cellular, the nation’s fifth-largest carrier, spent $146 million on 237 licenses, acquiring between five and two channels of 37-39 GHz spectrum in 69 PEA markets, according to Goemmer. He noted the largest markets where U.S. Cellular bought spectrum were Milwaukee and Oklahoma City.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the auction a “tremendous success.”

“Last year, the FCC auctioned the 28 GHz and 24 GHz bands. All told, those two auctions and this one have made available almost five gigahertz of high-band spectrum for commercial use,” Pai said in a statement. “To put that in perspective, that is more spectrum than is currently used for terrestrial mobile broadband by all wireless service providers in the United States combined.”

Up next is the mid-band 3.5 GHz auction slated to start June 25, followed by the C-band auction, scheduled to begin December 8.