A total of 70 companies have qualified to bid in the FCC's upcoming AWS-3 spectrum auction, which starts Nov. 13 and will be the country's largest spectrum auction since 2008.
Verizon Wireless (NYSE: VZ), AT&T Mobility (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile US (NYSE: TMUS), as well as Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH), are qualified to bid, along with dozens of smaller carriers, investment firms and private entities. Sprint (NYSE: S) said in September that it would sit out the AWS-3 auction.
The FCC's recent decision to push the start of the incentive auction of 600 MHz broadcast TV spectrum from mid-2015 to early 2016 increases the importance of the AWS-3 auction, since carriers will now need to wait even longer to get access to any broadcast TV spectrum that may be auctioned. Further, a number of carriers already use AWS spectrum for their LTE deployments, and the AWS-3 spectrum up for auction is expected to integrate quickly into the device and network ecosystem. However, the AWS-3 spectrum is mid-band spectrum and not low-band spectrum, and therefore won't have as good propagation characteristics as the low-band 600 MHz spectrum.
Smaller carriers and private firms that qualified for the auction include Bluegrass Wireless; DoCoMo Pacific, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo; Grand River Communications; Piedmont Rural Telephone Cooperative; Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, which runs Pioneer Cellular; Sagebrush Cellular; SI Wireless; and VTel Wireless.
The FCC has set a total reserve price of $10.587 billion for the AWS-3 auction. The 1695-1710 MHz band will be unpaired spectrum used for low-power uplink operations. The 1755-1780 MHz band will be licensed for low-power uplink operations and will be paired with the 2155-2180 MHz band, which is unencumbered by federal users, for downlink operations.
The AWS-3 auction will have two sub-bands, each with its own band plan:
- One of the sub-bands consists of one unpaired 5 MHz block (1695-1700 MHz) and one unpaired 10 MHz block (1700-1710 MHz), licensed in Economic Area (EA) geographies.
- The other sub-band consists of paired spectrum. It includes one 5x5 MHz block (1755-1760 and 2155-2160 MHz) licensed in Cellular Market Area (CMA) geographies, and two 5x5 MHz blocks (1760-1765 and 2160-2165 MHz, and then 1765-1770 and 2165-2170 MHz) licensed in EA geographies. And finally there is one 10x10 MHz block (1770-1780 and 2170-2180 MHz) licensed on an EA basis.
The fact that some of the spectrum will be auctioned off in smaller CMA geographies is a boon to smaller and regional carriers, since they can bid on licenses in areas that reflect their smaller network footprints. The Competitive Carriers Association lobbied hard for the FCC to include the CMA license sizes.
- see this FCC notice (PDF)
- see this list of bidders (PDF)
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