T-Mobile, Dish and Comcast top bidders in incentive auction while Verizon looks on

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The FCC's incentive auction of 600 MHz spectrum garnered $19.8 billion.

T-Mobile was the top bidder in the FCC’s incentive auction, agreeing to pony up nearly $8 billion to acquire 600 MHz spectrum. And the nation’s largest carrier was nowhere to be seen.

Dish Network, which already sits atop a pile of mid-range spectrum and has announced its intentions to build an NB-IoT network, was the second-biggest bidder, committing $6.2 billion. Comcast, which recently outlined plans to deploy its own wireless service, will spend $1.7 billion.

T-Mobile executives have said previously they hope to put some of the 600 MHz airwaves to use as soon as this year.

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Verizon declined to bid despite having qualified for the auction, and AT&T will spend only $910 million. Sprint had declined to participate from the outset.

AT&T has moved aggressively to shore up its spectrum assets in recent months, and will get access to additional low-band spectrum after winning the right to build the first U.S. network dedicated to first responders. Verizon added a significant chunk of millimeter-wave spectrum last year through a transaction with XO Communications.

Fifty bidders will walk away with the airwaves from 175 TV stations, which will pocket $10.05 billion for their spectrum. Bidders committed to spend $19.8 billion to make those airwaves available for wireless use, marking the second-largest auction in FCC history.

“There are three big surprises here,” analyst Craig Moffett of MoffettNathanson said in a brief note to investors. “Comcast bought less than expected, Dish Network bought more, and Verizon bought nothing at all.”