FCC delays 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum auction by a month

The FCC said it will delay its planned 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum auction by a month, from June 25 to July 23, due to the coronavirus. The band is widely expected to be used for 4G LTE services from AT&T, Verizon and others – and, eventually, 5G services as well.

"We determined that it was in everyone's best interest to make these changes. But we remain committed to holding the 3.5GHz auction this summer and look forward to beginning this important midband auction in July," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

"To be clear, intention is to not delay the important CBRS auction any further than this, unless circumstances absolutely warrant it," tweeted FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly, the agency official who played a leading role in shepherding the spectrum to auction.

"Good move by the @FCC to postpone auction 105 [the CBRS auction]. While the Commission and industry are focused on dealing with the pandemic, it would make no sense to put everyone into quiet period where talking about this spectrum is restricted," tweeted Hank Hultquist, a top AT&T executive who deals with the company's spectrum and regulatory issues.

The 150MHz of spectrum in the CBRS band is unique in the world in that it is shared between commercial users and the US military. The FCC released the band for unlicensed commercial use last year, and had hoped to auction half the band for commercial use in June.

Plenty of companies have voiced their interest in the spectrum, ranging from energy entities like the Utilities Technology Council, fixed wireless providers like GeoLinks, big wireless operators like AT&T and T-Mobile, smaller carriers represented by the Competitive Carriers Association, and cable players like Charter. The auction is expected to raise up to $4.4 billion in total bids.

Importantly, the FCC said that its plans to auction 280MHz of spectrum in the nearby C-Band remain on track for December. That auction is widely expected to generate up to $40 billion in bids from the likes of Verizon, AT&T and others.

Interestingly, the FCC is moving forward with a variety of other initiatives despite the coronavirus. For example, it said it will hold its March open meeting by teleconference.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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