T-Mobile says it won’t team with Sprint to bid in mmWave spectrum auction

T-Mobile said it isn’t looking to team up with Sprint to jointly bid on millimeter wave spectrum during the FCC’s upcoming spectrum auction starting in November.

“The parties [in the proposed merger between Sprint and T-Mobile] have protections in place to guard against the inappropriate sharing of competitively sensitive information, including any strategies or plans the parties may have in regard to spectrum auctions that occur while the transaction is pending,” T-Mobile wrote in a filing to the FCC urging the commission to allow it to participate in the upcoming auction despite its proposed merger with Sprint.

“Allowing T-Mobile to participate in Auctions 101 and 102 maximizes revenues to the U.S. Treasury by accounting for the true demand for millimeter wave spectrum, while also serving as a check against speculative bids,” the carrier wrote. “Maximizing auction participation also helps fulfill spectrum auction’s core statutory and economic rationale of efficiently determining bands’ highest and best use – an objective that could not be achieved if T-Mobile is barred from participating.”

T-Mobile’s position largely aligns with the one discussed by CEO John Legere earlier this year, who said Sprint and T-Mobile would look for auction rules that would allow them to participate in the auction apart from their merger plans.

Indeed, Legere – who has been positioned to take control of the combined Sprint and T-Mobile if the companies’ merger is approved – faces a number of challenging decisions in the next few months. It’s still unclear whether regulators at the FCC and Department of Justice will allow T-Mobile and Sprint to consummate their proposed merger, and even if the companies do receive regulatory approval, they don’t expect the merger to close until early next year.

But the FCC is scheduled to hold its first millimeter wave spectrum auction in November, so Legere will have to decide how to bid on spectrum during the event knowing that T-Mobile may – or may not – gain access to Sprint’s vast 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings if the transaction is approved.

The issue is further complicated by the type of spectrum up for auction in November. The FCC is scheduled to auction 28 GHz licenses first, then 24 GHz licenses shortly thereafter. The FCC has also said it will auction 37, 39 and 47 GHz bands in the second half of 2019.

These auctions mark the first time the FCC will release millimeter wave spectrum – spectrum many describe as ideal for short-range, high-speed transmissions using 5G technology.

And T-Mobile has made it clear that it wants additional millimeter wave spectrum. But its desire for such spectrum could be tempered by its merger with Sprint.

Article updated to clarify Legere's auction comments from earlier this year.