April 24, 2017

$19.8 billion airwaves auction may mean better cell service

15 April 2017, 11:47 | Sue Hudson

Interestingly, Verizon opted not to dip money into the auction. More recently, both carriers have been focusing closely on getting 5G rolled out as quickly as possible and the 600 MHz spectrum is not suitable for supporting 5G. The company gave up some of its TV spectrum in New York City, Philadelphia, and Chicago, walking away with proceeds of $481.6 million. This auction quadrupled the carrier's low-band spectrum portfolio, which is a big deal, and combining this 600MHz with the 700MHz they already have, you're going to see much improved signal from T-Mobile. That'll start a new wireless battle right as T-Mobile is catching up to the last one. Dish spent a painful $6.2 billion on licenses, and Comcast spend $1.7 billion. That news is surprising because Dish also was a big victor in the AWS-3 auction, yet has not yet begun building a network - and some industry observers question whether the company ever will or if, instead, it will simply sell its spectrum.

"These auction results are a win for everyone, especially consumers, and generated billions for broadcasters and USA taxpayers", said John Legere, president and CEO of T-Mobile.

"T-Mobile now has the largest swath of unused low-band spectrum in the country".

Once T-Mobile start using frequencies it won in this spectrum auction, its coverage in the frequencies below 1 GHz will almost equal Verizon's.

T-Mobile was able to secure 45 percent of the spectrum sold.

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The auction was billed by federal officials as a once-in-a-lifetime event for cellphone carriers, cable companies and TV stations - an unprecedented opportunity to acquire enormous amounts of high-value, "beachfront" airwaves.

Wireless providers that acquired low-band spectrum in the auction will have as many as 12 years to begin using that bandwidth for services, although Legere said T-Mobile expects to begin "lighting up" its new airwave holdings later this year. 14 MHz of spectrum is available for unlicensed use and wireless microphones.

With the purchase, T-Mobile owns 41.1 megahertz of spectrum below the 1-gigahertz frequency, compared with 46.2 megahertz for Verizon and 70.5 megahertz for AT&T, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

Comcast was the third biggest spender in the auction, though it came in at a distant third. (NYSE: T) spent just $910.2 million. And US Cellular picked up 188 licenses for $328 million, though they're likely to be located in rural areas, thus the lower cost.

During the auction, there was a prohibition clause that forbade bidders from talking to each other, but that period ends on April 27.

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