UScellular wound up as the fourth largest spender at the C-band auction, coming away with a $1.28 billion price tag for 254 licenses.
The regional carrier came in behind the big three (including more than $45 billion for Verizon and $$23 billion for AT&T), but ahead of the likes of Dish and cable companies who surprisingly spent little or nothing, respectively, at Auction 107.
Last week UScellular disclosed in its 10-K filing that it committed $1.46 billion since year’s end, to purchase wireless spectrum and associated costs.
UScellular just finished a VoLTE upgrade in 2020, and has a variety of spectrum holdings for 5G. It already deployed 5G in several markets using clean low-band 600 MHz spectrum. And new C-band will also add to its millimeter wave assets which include 28 GHz. UScellular plans to start mmWave deployments in 2021 with three test markets, offering fixed wireless service.
During fourth quarter earnings executives said the carrier expects to have 5G in every single one of its markets by the end of the first quarter.
The first 100-megahertz of C-band expected to be cleared first (December 2021) were A-blocks at auction, and largely scooped up by Verizon. The remaining spectrum won’t be ready to use for a few more years, in line with schedules for satellite operations to clear the band. UScellular already started conducting C-band tests though, including this past fall using gear from Ericsson and Nokia.