C-band assignment phase ends

The suspense lingers over who actually won licenses – and how much they each bid for them – but the FCC announced Wednesday that bidding in the assignment phase of the C-band auction has ended.

The clock phase of the C-band auction, also known as Auction 107, started on December 8, 2020, and ended on January 15, 2021, raising gross proceeds of over $80.9 billion. That triggered the assignment phase, which provided winning bidders the chance to bid for frequency-specific licenses corresponding to their close phase winnings.

The FCC said it will release a Public Notice in the next few business days that provides official notification to winning bidders, specifies the deadlines for payments and long-form applications, and gives details for other post-auction procedures. Finally, it will disclose the identities of the bidders.

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Analysts at Raymond James & Associates predicted last week that the auction would end on February 17, as it did, if bidding continued on pace. In a note on Wednesday, they noted that this second phase brought gross proceeds to $81.2 billion, indicating bidders paid an additional $0.3 billion for specific license blocks in partial economic areas (PEAs) by category.

Analysts at New Street Research said it’s possible a notice will be released by the FCC this week, but it usually takes the FCC about a week from the assignment phase end to the time it announces the winners, meaning it’s more likely they will be announced next week.

Once the results are released, the winners will be required to make 20% deposits within 10 business days, at which point the quiet period will end, which could be March 10, they noted.

Most analysts expect Verizon spent the most of all the big carriers in the auction; it’s seen as the most in need of the type of mid-band spectrum offered via the C-band. But plenty of other entities qualified to bid in the auction, including AT&T, cable companies Comcast and Charter Communications, T-Mobile and Dish Network.

As of last month, New Street analysts expected Verizon to get 100 MHz for $29 billion and AT&T to get 85 MHz for $24 billion. Under their analysis, T-Mobile might walk away with 45 MHz for $13 billion and cable, Dish and others would get 50 MHz for $15 billion. The auction included a total of 280 MHz of spectrum. 

At one point last fall, T-Mobile CEO Mike Sievert predicted that Verizon and AT&T would “absolutely kill each other” over C-band licenses, while T-Mobile would take a “disciplined” approach in its strategy. Since T-Mobile acquired a lot of mid-band spectrum (2.5 GHz) in the Sprint merger, there’s a big question mark over what it might have done in the auction just to drive up prices for its rivals.

The analysts at New Street said in their report last month that even with less C-band spectrum, T-Mobile will have a "huge lead" over the rest of the field in both total spectrum and prime 5G spectrum.