FCC Raises $7.56 Billion from the First Phase Auction of mm-Wave Spectrum

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has closed the first phase of the sale of millimeter-wave spectrum with a bid total of more than $7.56 billion. Since December 10, 2019, 35 bidders have been vying for the licenses. After 104 rounds of the clock phase, prices settled for 14,142 spectrum licenses, with just two licenses remaining with the FCC.

Now that the clock phase is complete, the auction moves into an assignment phase for specific blocks of spectrum. During the clock phase, bidders set their sights on either the MN or P licenses in each of  416 geographic Partial Economic Areas that make up the U.S. The MN licenses consist of 24 100-MHz license blocks in the 37 (37.6 to 38.6 GHz) and 39 GHz frequency ranges and the P licenses are ten 100-MHz licenses in the 47 GHz frequency range of 47.2 to 48.2 GHz.

Posted license prices as of the close of round 104 in the clock phase for the top five most expensive license-types were:
  • $37.5 million for MN licenses in New York, New York
  • $29.46 million for MN licenses in Los Angeles, California
  • $13.96 million for MN licenses in Chicago, Illinois
  • $11.2 million for MN licenses in Boston, Massachusetts
  • $10.55 million for MN licenses in San Francisco, California

The MN licenses raised significantly more bids and interest than the P licenses. In New York City, for instance, the 24 available MN licenses were bid up to $37.5 million, while the 10 P-block licenses went for $4.6 million. The FCC has authorized either fixed or mobile use in the bands, and the commission has emphasized the sheer amount of spectrum on offer: at 3,400 megahertz, Auction 103 made available the largest amount of spectrum ever offered in an auction.

Auction 103 has already far outstripped the other two millimeter-wave auctions in total bids raised. Auction 101 raised only about $702.6 million because most of the spectrum in the band was already licensed and held by carriers such as Verizon (which beat out AT&T in a bidding war for Straight Path that was driven by its high-band spectrum holdings) and AT&T (which acquired Fibertower and its mmWave spectrum holdings). Last year’s Auction 102, meanwhile, raised about $2 billion.

Comparatively, the 2017 600 MHz incentive auction raised nearly $19.8 billion, and $19.4 billion was generated in the 700 MHz auction held in 2008; both of those were dwarfed by the more than $44 billion in gross proceeds from the AWS-3 auction that ended in early 2015.

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