Dish Network appears set to secure H Block spectrum at FCC auction next year

Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH) has officially registered its intent to bid in the FCC's upcoming 1900 MHz PCS H Block spectrum auction--and it is likely to secure a significant amount of licenses since it is the only major company planning to participate in the auction. If Dish is successful in winning H Block licenses, the company would notably improve its already significant spectrum portfolio.

The FCC released a list of bidders for the H Block on Wednesday; the auction is scheduled to start Jan. 22. The commission said 14 bidders entered complete applications and an additional 20 bidders submitted incomplete applications that they can correct by Dec. 18.

Dish Network has agreed to bid the reserve price of $1.56 billion in the H Block auction as part of a complex deal with the FCC in which it may be given leeway to convert part of its 2 GHz AWS-4 spectrum from uplink to downlink operations. The FCC has not yet agreed to do so, but, as Reuters notes, the H Block auction will not close until the FCC has raised $1.56 billion.

The list of complete bidders does not name Dish specifically, but Reuters reported that Dish applied as "American H Block Wireless LLC." BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk wrote in a research note that he agreed with that assessment.

The list of bidders includes smaller carriers such as nTelos, Piedmont Rural and James Valley Cooperative Telecom, while the list of bidders with incomplete applications includes "Cellular South Licenses," which is likely affiliated with C Spire Wireless, whose name was formerly Cellular South. Piecyk added that América Móvil is listed as a bidder as "Puerto Rico Telephone Company." Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) and AT&T Mobility (NYSE:T) do not appear to be bidding.

Sprint (NYSE:S) and T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS) indicated in November they will not participate. Sprint had been considered a likely bidder since it controls spectrum adjacent to the H Block.

The H Block is a 10 MHz block of paired airwaves that runs from 1915-1920 MHz (for the uplink) and from 1995-2000 MHz (for the downlink). Dish controls spectrum adjacent to a portion of the H Block, called AWS-4; Dish's 40 MHz of AWS-4 spectrum specifically runs from 2000-2020 MHz (for the uplink) and 2180-2200 MHz (for the downlink).

However, Dish has asked the FCC to let it use the 2000-2020 MHz band for downlink operations instead of uplink. If the FCC grants that request and then Dish wins the H Block auction,  it will have even more spectrum for downlink operations. Further, LightSquared has asked the FCC to let it use its L-band spectrum for uplink operations; Dish is the leading bidder to win LightSquared's airwaves in an auction, and that process could be wrapped up by early next month.  

For more:
- see these two separate FCC lists (PDF)
- see this WSJ article (sub. req.)
- see this Reuters article
- see this BTIG blog post (reg. req.)

Related Articles:
Analyst: Dish could spend up to $10.7B on LightSquared, H Block, AWS-3 and 600 MHz spectrum
Report: T-Mobile approached Verizon about buying 700 MHz A Block spectrum
H Block auction moving ahead as scheduled
Analysts: Sprint, T-Mobile ditched H Block to focus on other spectrum, avoid Dish complications
Sprint abandons pursuit of H Block spectrum
T-Mobile rules out H Block auction, willing to buy spectrum from 'a private party'

Article updated Dec. 4 at 4:30 p.m. ET with more details on the alias Dish Network is using for the auction.

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