5G and Beyond

Bell, Rogers and Telus nab Canada's midband 5G spectrum

Canada's 3.5GHz auction of midband spectrum for 5G ended this week with a total of $7.2 billion in winning bids. Bell, Rogers Communications and Telus walked away with roughly 80% of the spectrum up for grabs.

Rogers doled out the largest amount of cash, with total bids of around $2.6 billion. The company is working to obtain approvals for its proposed $20.8 billion merger with Shaw Communications, which did not bid in the auction due to the transaction. As noted by PCMag, the auction made roughly 200MHz of spectrum available, but 50MHz was reserved for smaller bidders. The publication noted that Vidéotron and Xplornet also walked away with significant winnings.

As noted by Reuters, Quebecor's Vidéotron plans to use its licenses to expand into Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia. Xplornet, meanwhile, promised to "deliver fast, reliable and affordable unlimited broadband service to rural Canadians."

Importantly, analyst Frank Rayal with Xona Partners noted the Canadian auction clocked in at an average of $1.83 per MHz-POP. The per MHz-POP calculation is applied to most spectrum transactions and reflects the number of people covered compared with the amount of spectrum available, though it can be affected by a wide variety of factors.

As Rayal noted, that's a record price for midband spectrum and far higher than the $0.94 per MHz-POP that US operators paid for similar C-band spectrum earlier this year.

Canada's auction – delayed for a year due to the pandemic – follows auctions of similar spectrum in the US. The FCC's 3.5GHz CBRS auction of up to 70MHz of spectrum ended in 2020 with a total of $4.6 billion in bids, while the agency's C-band auction of 280MHz of licenses in the 3.7GHz band rang up almost $81 billion in bids earlier this year.

Such midband spectrum is highly valued in the 5G era as it supports transmissions that can both cover wide geographic areas and provide speedy connections.

"Underscoring the Bell team's goal to advance how Canadians connect with each other and the world, acquiring this significant additional 3500MHz spectrum will drive Bell's ongoing leadership in 5G, a critical component in our multibillion-dollar program to accelerate investment in Canada's next-generation network infrastructure and services," Mirko Bibic, president and CEO of BCE and Bell Canada, said in a release.

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

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