FierceWireless' spectrum auction guide: What you need to know about the upcoming auctions

By Phil Goldstein

The  700 MHz auction was the last major wireless spectrum auction the FCC conducted. That auction, which ended more than five years ago, raised nearly $19.6 billion ($16.3 billion of which came from Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T (NYSE:T)). The only auction that has occurred since then was last fall's $300 million Mobility Fund auction--but that is all about to change.

Over the next two to three years the FCC will conduct a series of auctions that could free up as much as 200 MHz of spectrum, depending upon how many TV broadcasters participate in the FCC's incentive auctions scheduled to begin next year.

The auctions are a major piece of the FCC's mission to free up 300 MHz of spectrum for mobile broadband by 2015. That was the centerpiece of outgoing FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's mobile agenda and it will be at the heart of what his designated successor, former CTIA chief Tom Wheeler, will need to deal with over the next several years.

The incentive auctions have received the most attention during the past few years. The FCC is currently writing the rules for the auctions and is trying to persuade broadcasters to participate.

Despite the noise around those auctions, there are several other auctions on the docket, including ones that may occur before the incentive auctions take place. One is an auction of the PCS "H Block" (1915-1920 MHz and 1995-2000 MHz), which have peaked the interest of both Sprint Nextel (NYSE:S) and Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH). That auction is expected late this year.

Another is the Congress-mandated auction of the 1695-1710 MHz band. The CTIA is pushing the FCC to pair the upper edge of the BAS spectrum located at 2095-2110 MHz with that downlink block.

Finally, the FCC will move to auction the 2155-2180 MHz band, which the CTIA and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) would like to see paired with the 1755-1780 MHz band.

The smaller auctions "don't have the stature of the incentive auctions," said Medley Global Advisors analyst Jeffrey Silva. "But I think each one of them will become more important in time, and the reason is there are diminished expectations for the incentive auctions. If that auction is less than successful, then all of these other auctions are that much more important."

With all of that in mind, FierceWireless has developed a primer to help make sense of the upcoming auctions, including which companies might bid, estimates of how much money each auction could raise and why the airwaves are important in the first place.

FierceWireless' spectrum auction guide: What you need to know about the upcoming auctions