Select Spectrum is a spectrum broker that’s been around for 10 years. It has already facilitated deals amounting to more than $400 million, primarily bringing together lessors and lessees of spectrum in the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) portion of the 2.5 GHz band. Now, the company is well-positioned to act as a spectrum broker in the CBRS band, and it’s gearing up to do just that.
The company cut its teeth by brokering 2.5 GHz spectrum. The FCC originally set aside the EBS portion of the 2.5 GHz band for use by educational institutions. However, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai noted in July 2019 that most licensees didn't use the spectrum for educational purposes. Instead, they leased the spectrum to earn revenue.
Pai said in a 2019 statement, “An overwhelming number of today’s EBS licensees lease an overwhelming amount of EBS spectrum out to wireless companies. Indeed, over 95% of current license holders for our 2,193 EBS licenses today lease much of this spectrum to non-educators.”
Much of that leasing activity went through Select Spectrum. The company set up its Spectrum Marketplace as an online platform to bring lessors and lessees of 2.5 GHz (EBS/BRS) licenses together.
In April 2020, the FCC implemented rules, allowing the sale of those licenses. Whether before April 2020 or after, the majority of transactions involved Sprint/T-Mobile, either leasing or buying the available EBS spectrum. Again, much of that activity happened on Select Spectrum’s Marketplace.
Now, Select Spectrum is plotting its moves as a broker in the CBRS secondary market. It plans to roll out its new web platform CBRS Direct in early 2021 after Priority Access Licenses (PALs) are granted by the FCC to the Auction 105 winners.
The company said CBRS Direct is a natural extension to the success it’s achieved in the 2.5 GHz band and also via dozens of transactions in the 3.65 GHz (NN) band, a predecessor to CBRS.
The CBRS Direct platform will provide a transaction platform for PAL spectrum owners to monetize their PALs and for prospective users across a myriad of industries to access PAL spectrum.
Andreas Bitzarakis, director of broadband at Select Spectrum, said the CBRS Direct platform will also include support for partitioning and disaggregation of licenses. Partitioning involves the division of licenses along geographic lines for a portion of a license area, while disaggregation refers to spectrally segmenting a license by frequency for less than the full bandwidth.
Partitioning will allow for small-scale transactions, perhaps down to the census tract level or lower.
In its CBRS Auction 105, the FCC auctioned licenses off on a county-size basis, with seven licenses to a county. However, many proponents of the band had petitioned the FCC to incorporate census-tract-sized licenses instead. CBRS Direct will provide these users with access to spectrum on a sub-county basis. This is often desired for businesses that just need spectrum to cover their manufacturing facility, for instance, or to cover a sports venue, as another example.
On the flip side, PAL owners can also lease a portion of their county-sized licenses.
“A lot of folks who have PALs won’t need to operate in the full county,” said Bitzarakis. “The critical part is that it can facilitate partial counties.”
Relationship to SAS
Select Spectrum plans for CBRS Direct to interface directly with one or more of the FCC’s designated Spectrum Access System (SAS) databases while still operating independently of any specific SAS operator.
There’s been some talk that the SAS administrators — Google, Federated Wireless, Sony, CommScope and Amdocs — would be in the perfect position to act as spectrum transaction brokers. They could simply upgrade their SAS databases to include a financial transaction aspect.
Federated Wireless CTO Kurt Schaubach told Fierce, “We do think the secondary market is going to be healthy due to the PAL use-it or lose-it rule, and we think we’d be in a great position to manage that market since we have the PAL data and could re-assign and enforce the changes in real time.”
Although Select Spectrum is communicating with the SAS administrators, it doesn’t think it’s necessary for its spectrum brokerage platform to be connected to the SAS database.
Zachary Thompson, Select Spectrum’s manager of sales and analytics, said, “We’re transacting the title to the asset. Whereas the SAS are concerned with broadcasting. We could do a transaction, and the SAS has no relevance for the transaction itself. There’s a difference from being good at coordinating spectrum and understanding the legal and financial aspects.”
Select Spectrum could end up being a competitor to any SAS administrator that decides to go into the brokerage business.