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February 25, 2021
The C-band auction results are in, and now it's time to sift through the data.
First, and perhaps most importantly, T-Mobile as expected remains the operator with the largest overall spectrum holdings below 6GHz.
Figure 1: Estimated sub-6GHz spectrum holdings following Auction 107 (C-band) This chart shows not only the spectrum holdings of each of the industry's major operators but also their total number of subscribers (at the top) and their total number of cell towers (at the bottom). Click here for a larger version of this image.
(Source: Raymond James)
This is important because operators' network capacity and speed are directly related to the amount of spectrum they own. Even after spending $45.5 billion, Verizon will continue to play second fiddle to T-Mobile in terms of overall spectrum ownership below 6GHz.
However, it's worth noting that a good chunk of Verizon's C-band winnings are in the A Block, and those licenses will become commercially available by the end of 2021. T-Mobile, meanwhile, only purchased B and C Block licenses, and those licenses won't become available until around 2023.
Also, Verizon remains in the lead in millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum ownership. Those bands are generally above 20GHz.
Figure 2: Estimated mmWave spectrum holdings This chart shows the various mmWave spectrum band holdings of Verizon and other carriers. Click here for a larger version of this image.
(Source: Raymond James)
As for the C-band auction specifically, Verizon bid a total of $45.5 billion but will end up spending a total of $53.4 billion because it will also need to pay incumbent satellite operators like Intelsat and SES to clear out their existing operations from the C-band.
Here are the full details of operators' C-band spending, including their "per MHz-POP" calculations. The per MHz-POP figure indicates the amount of money spent on spectrum, the amount of spectrum available and the number of people that spectrum covers.
Figure 3: Full C-band auction results Verizon spent the most in the C-band auction, followed by AT&T and T-Mobile. Click here for a larger version of this image.
(Source: New Street Research)
But what exactly did each of the three big spenders – Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile – acquire? These C-band maps show exactly which geographic licenses each operator purchased and how many of those licenses it acquired.
Figure 4: Map of Verizon C-band purchases Click here for a larger version of this image.
Figure 5: Map of AT&T C-band purchases Click here for a larger version of this image.
Figure 6: Map of T-Mobile C-band purchases Click here for a larger version of this image.
Finally, it's important to note that signals in the C-band spectrum do not perform in the same way as signals in other spectrum bands. Signals in lowband spectrum like 600MHz travel much further geographically than signals in highband, mmWave spectrum. However, transmissions in lowband spectrum often cannot carry nearly as much data as transmissions in highband spectrum – meaning, mmWave 5G is generally much faster than lowband 5G.
C-band spectrum, meantime, is midband spectrum, and provides a balance between geographic coverage and speed.
Figure 7: Propagation distance This chart shows how far a signal will travel, or propagate, in different spectrum bands without any interference from other signals or objects like buildings. Click here for a larger version of this image.
However, these propagation characteristics also mean that C-band winners like Verizon will need to light up far more transmission sites to cover the same geographic area with midband C-band spectrum than they would with lowband 700MHz spectrum. This is likely welcome news to cell tower and small cell owners like Crown Castle and American Tower.
Overall, though, the astounding, record-breaking $81 billion in total bids raised by the FCC's C-band auction helps highlight the value of this type of midband spectrum to 5G operators.
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.
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