Sprint (NYSE: S) isn't participating in the FCC's upcoming incentive auction of 600 MHz spectrum, but its parent company SoftBank might bid. So the U.S. operator may score some of the prized low-band spectrum after all.
Citing "two sectors bankers," the subscription financial news service CTFN said SoftBank may establish a new company to acquire spectrum at auction, later selling or swapping the airwaves, as RCR Wireless News reported. But SoftBank could also offer the spectrum to Sprint, which it owns an 80 percent stake in.
Sprint declined to comment on the rumor to FierceWireless, referring questions on the topic to SoftBank. Representatives for SoftBank, which is based in Japan, were not immediately available.
SoftBank last week said it would split in two, with one division overseeing its Japanese operations and the other managing overseas interests including Sprint.
Sprint already owns spectrum assets valued at $115 billion, and the struggling U.S. carrier said earlier this week that it plans to use its high-band, 2.5 GHz airwaves to densify its network with small cells in advance of 5G.
Sprint last year announced it wouldn't participate in the auction, saying "it has the spectrum it needs to deploy its network architecture of the future." But that decision was surely made with financial considerations in mind: Sprint is struggling to cut as much as $2.5 billion from its budget, and has gone through several rounds of layoffs.
The other three major U.S. carriers are all expected to participate actively in the incentive auction, but Sprint's absence is one reason some analysts believe the event will fetch far less than the $70 billion to $80 billion once thought. SoftBank's participation would surely help inflate the FCC's haul at auction, and it may help Sprint close the network gap with its rivals, particularly in rural and suburban markets where low-band spectrum like 600 MHz could be used to cover indoor and rural areas.
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J.P. Morgan: FCC's 600 MHz incentive auction likely to fetch only $25B to $35B