All four of the biggest U.S. wireless operators are expected to participate to some degree in the upcoming 24 GHz auction, or Auction 102, which is set to begin March 14.
Last week, the FCC released the list (PDF) of 38 qualified bidders for the 24 GHz auction, and that list includes AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and, listed as ATI Sub LLC, Sprint. Bluegrass Cellular, U.S. Cellular, Windstream Services and Starry are also among the qualified bidders.
On the list of entities not qualified to bid (PDF), of which there are 22, are Cox Communications and Frontier Communications. The FCC didn’t explain exactly why they didn’t qualify, but entities needed to make timely and sufficient upfront payments in order to qualify.
Licenses in the 28 GHz auction were based on counties, while the 24 GHz licenses in Auction 102 are based on Partial Economic Areas (PEAs). The nation’s big mobile operators tend to like PEAs rather than counties due to their economics.
Specifically, the lower segment of the 24 GHz band (24.25–24.45 GHz) will be licensed as two 100-megahertz blocks, while the upper segment (24.75–25.25 GHz) will be licensed as five 100-megahertz blocks, with four 100-megahertz blocks and one 75-megahertz block offered in one PEA and only four blocks in three other PEAs. A mock auction will be held March 8.
The 28 GHz auction, dubbed Auction 101, ended in January after more than two months of bidding that generated a total of $702,572,410 in provisionally winning bids. That auction had 40 qualified bidders.
The FCC still has not disclosed the winning bidders of Auction 101; that will happen after Auction 102 closes.
With the 28 and 24 GHz auctions, combined with a single auction later this year for the upper 37 GHz, 39 GHz and 47 GHz spectrum bands, the U.S. is seeing a remarkable amount of millimeter spectrum up for grabs. Combined with the 28 and 24 GHz auction, all of the millimeter wave auctions will free up more spectrum than is currently used to provide terrestrial mobile broadband by all providers combined. But many operators say they need midband spectrum to remain competitive in 5G, and that remains elusive.