September 3, 2020
They were pursuing the same type of spectrum, they both spent more than $1 billion, and they both plan to use it for 5G. Between the two of them, they accounted for fully 62% of the roughly $4.6 billion in total auction proceeds.
But when it comes to what they actually purchased in the FCC's recently concluded 3.5GHz CBRS midband spectrum auction, Dish Network and Verizon couldn't have been more different.
"There were two surprises from the CBRS auction," wrote the Wall Street analysts at LightShed Partners. "The first was that Verizon did not secure a nationwide CBRS spectrum position and the second was that Dish did."
Verizon spent around $1.9 billion for licenses covering roughly 46% of the US population, according to the Wall Street analysts at Evercore, purchasing an average of 34MHz of spectrum – including at least 30MHz in virtually every area where the company bought licenses. The LightShed analysts noted that Verizon focused on markets like Fort Myers, Florida; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Grand Rapids, Michigan – markets where it doesn't have much spectrum.
"Based on these bidding results, we believe Verizon will primarily be using CBRS for LTE capacity augmentation," the LightShed analysts wrote.
Indeed, Light Reading reported more than a year ago that Verizon has been deploying antennas in its network that can support transmissions in the 3.5GHz CBRS band to add additional capacity to its 4G and 5G networks.
Dish, meantime, bought an average of around 20MHz across most of the US for around $913 million. This bowled over most analysts.
"We are a little surprised to see Dish buy as much as they did – we expected them to preserve resources for the more important C-band auction in December," wrote the Wall Street analysts at New Street Research.
So what is Dish's CBRS strategy?
"Dish spent wisely going for breadth and not depth," wrote the Wall Street analysts at Cowen. "This was a solid strategy to in-fill nationwide coverage of upper midband spectrum ideal for Dish's wholesale/enterprise IoT network. Dish already had the 'supermarket' of untapped spectrum, and continues to augment its portfolio further still. As Dish looks for strategic partners (Uber, Amazon, drones, IoT), they did themselves a favor by augmenting the portfolio with CBRS."
Other analysts generally agreed.
"At first blush, CBRS further deepens Dish's already robust and vacant midband spectrum position," wrote the LightShed analysts. "However, a mix of CBRS spectrum could also emerge as an important asset that Dish can integrate into a service offering that appeals to a diverse set of data-centric tech companies."
Overall, though, Dish's strategy during the CBRS auction appears to align with the strategy it has applied to virtually every single FCC spectrum auction for the past decade, a strategy that can be summed in two short words: buy it.
"Yet again, Dish spent heavily at yet another public spectrum auction, proving that [Dish Chairman] Charlie Ergen never saw a megahertz he didn't like," concluded the Cowen analysts.
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