T-Mobile pays $304M to fill in holes in its 2.5 GHz spectrum

No other company even came close to bidding as much for 2.5 GHz spectrum as T-Mobile, which bid $304,325,290 in Auction 108. Of 63 bidders winning a total of 7,872 licenses, T-Mobile won 7,156 licenses in 2,724 counties.

The next highest bidders were:

Auction 108 chart

In total, Auction 108 raised $428 million after 73 rounds of bidding. At the close of the auction, 7,872 licenses were sold, and 145 licenses were unsold. 

Only 82 bidders qualified to participate in the auction, which was largely viewed as an opportunity for T-Mobile to fill in the “swiss-cheese” holes in its 2.5 GHz spectrum across the U.S.

Other qualified bidders included AT&T, Verizon (under the name Cellco partnership) and Dish Network (under the name Carbonate Wireless). AT&T and Dish won $0 bids.

Verizon garnered 12 licenses in 9 counties for $1,515,300.

Most of the excitement related to the auction happened several months before it began. It became apparent that although T-Mobile had bragged extensively about its 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum, it does not own much of it but, rather, leases it from educational institutions that own the spectrum. A third-party investment company WCO Spectrum had been approaching those educational institutions, offering to buy the spectrum from them. T-Mobile has been using all the fire power of its considerable legal resources to prevent schools from selling their spectrum to WCO.

On top of that, AT&T and Verizon, requested the FCC to make T-Mobile reveal the terms of its leases with schools. They argued that T-Mobile had an unfair advantage in Auction 108 because it knew the terms of the existing leases, while they did not.

Ultimately, the FCC did not require T-Mobile to reveal the terms of those leases.

The FCC may have determined it was in the national best interest for T-Mobile to have a seamless mid-band spectrum layer across the country.

When announcing the auction, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said, “The 2.5 GHz band auction can help deliver on the promise of 5G services and ensure that it reaches as many people as possible. The 2.5 GHz band spectrum provides an opportunity to fill in some of the critical 5G gaps in rural America.”