Winners at the FCC’s third millimeter wave 5G spectrum auction were announced last week, and T-Mobile, Dish Network and Sprint came away controlling nearly all of the 47 GHz spectrum.
Spectrum maps for each carrier below, provided by spectrum tracking and analysis company AllNet Insights & Analytics, indicate the areas and amount of 47 GHz spectrum each have. Brian Goemmer, president and founder of AllNet Insights, said together the three hold 99% of the 47 GHz spectrum, with Dish controlling 61%, Sprint 24%, and T-Mobile 14%.
Map showing Dish Networks' 47 GHz spectrum. (AllNet Insights & Analytics)
Map showing Sprint's 47 GHz spectrum. (AllNet Insights & Analytics)
Map showing T-Mobile's 47 GHz spectrum. (AllNet Insights & Analytics)
The latest spectrum auction (Auction 103) offered up a total of 3,400 megahertz of spectrum in the 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz bands, licensed as 100-megahertz blocks covering Partial Economic Areas (PEAs). It wrapped up earlier this month, garnering about $7.56 billion in net bids, and $4.47 billion in net proceeds after accounting for incentive payments.
T-Mobile and Sprint are nearing a close on their merger deal, and are poised to pool their respective spectrum resources. Together they’ll have high-band 47 GHz spectrum covering most of the country, and appeared to have picked up licenses in adjacent markets.
Combined, T-Mobile and Sprint are licensed to provide service using 47 GHz spectrum to 95% of the U.S. population (315,331,464 people), according to Goemmer.
For 47 GHz (also known as category P blocks), T-Mobile typically bought 4 channels or 400 MHz in 358 markets. T-Mobile spent about $873 million at the auction, where the carrier also scooped up spectrum in the more expensive 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands.
Sprint only acquired licenses in the 47 GHz, spending about $114 million for 127 licenses in 38 PEAs. Sprint received 5 channels or 500 megahertz in the 47 GHz band in the top 10 PEA markets, and typically 300 MHz and 200 MHz of spectrum in PEAs between the top 11 and 36 markets.
Dish Network, which is slated to enter the industry as a new wireless carrier and build out its own network, spent around $202 million at Auction 103 for 2,651 licenses in 416 PEAs.
Waiting on a 47 GHz ecosystem?
As carriers including AT&T and Verizon have already deployed commercial millimeter wave 5G service leaning on 28 GHz or 39 GHz spectrum in some areas, devices and infrastructure might not be ready support 47 GHz near-term.
“A clear challenge is whether an ecosystem develops for 47 GHz,” Goemmer said. “The other inherent problem is how anxious is Apple going to be to develop an iPhone for 47 GHz.”
Ahead of the auction Goemmer noted current networks were being built for 28 GHz and 39 GHz frequencies and had estimated it would be 18 months from the end of Auction 103 before network gear and smartphones for 37 GHz and 47 GHz became available.
At this point the new T-Mobile would be the biggest carrier holding up the 47 GHz ecosystem, he added.
Interestingly, Verizon and AT&T didn’t appear to care for 47 GHz spectrum at the auction, each squarely focusing on the 37-39 GHz bands.
“It will allow their networks to be more simplified,” Goemmer explained. Meaning, “they don’t have to put 47 GHz hardware on all the sites, so what they chose to do is spend more money for the spectrum.”
Millimeter wave spectrum in the 37 GHz and 39 GHz bands (MN blocks) was significantly pricier than 47 GHz. Earlier analysis by Sasha Javid, COO of the Spectrum Consortium, found prices for 47 GHz (P blocks) were roughly 89% cheaper than MN at the end of the auction’s clock phase.
Verizon and AT&T already controlled 39 GHz spectrum and relinquished spectrum usage rights in exchange for incentive payments, what Goemmer likened to vouchers, determined by bidding in the auction.
Both AT&T and Verizon were big spenders, with Verizon’s bidding $3.4 billion for MN spectrum. The carrier’s net payment was $1.6 billion after its incentive payment. Verizon typically bought 10 channels in almost all markets nationwide. AT&T bid $2.38 billion, and received a $1.19 billion incentive payment, typically winning eight channels in each market across 411 PEAs.