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5G

FCC sets July 29 kickoff for 2.5GHz spectrum auction

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced Monday that it will boot up an auction of certain 2.5GHz band licenses for 5G services on July 29, 2022.

Auction 108, as the FCC calls it, will offer roughly 8,000 new, flexible-use, county-based overlay licenses in the 2.5GHz band (2496MHz-2690MHz). Notably, these licenses are in areas with unassigned 2.5GHz spectrum and primarily cover rural parts of the country, the FCC said. The auction will use an ascending clock format.

The FCC's 2.5GHz auction aims to fill some of the critical 5G gaps in rural America. 
 
(Source: B Christopher/Alamy Stock Photo)
The FCC's 2.5GHz auction aims to fill some of the critical 5G gaps in rural America.
(Source: B Christopher/Alamy Stock Photo)

Tied in to the adoption of procedures for the auction, the FCC also launched a mapping tool for use by Auction 108 applicants to help them assess whether there is unassigned 2.5GHz spectrum available in US counties and if so to what extent.

Per the rules of the auction, overlay licenses must protect the operations of incumbent licensees within the auctioned areas, including any licensees that receive their licenses through applications filed in the Rural Tribal Priority Window, which closed in September 2020. The FCC noted that it is continuing to process pending tribal applications, "which could result in removing a relatively small number of additional licenses from the inventory" before the opening of the Auction 108 short-form application filing window.

Word of the starting date of Auction 108 comes a few weeks after FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel hinted that the auction for 2.5GHz spectrum would likely get underway in July.

"The 2.5 GHz band auction can help deliver on the promise of 5G services and ensure that it reaches as many people as possible," Rosenworcel said in a statement. "The 2.5 GHz band spectrum provides an opportunity to fill in some of the critical 5G gaps in rural America."

Focus on T-Mobile

T-Mobile is expected to be keenly interested in participating in Auction 108, as winning spectrum in these unassigned pockets could help the mobile operator fill some critical coverage gaps in a 5G network that is already heavily reliant on the 2.5GHz band.

"T-Mobile is likely to be the major winner, as the auction will allow the company to fix the 'Swiss Cheese' problem its 2.5 GHz network grid is known to suffer from," New Street Research analyst Blair Levin explained in a research note, according to Fierce Wireless, which adds that T-Mobile wanted the FCC to use the ascending clock auction format so it can precisely target its bids.

As Light Reading reported earlier this month, data from AllNet Insights & Analytics found that T-Mobile has recently acquired more than 200 of the 2.5GHz spectrum licenses that the FCC freed up for sale two years ago. That revelation is important because T-Mobile holds long-term leases on most of its 2.5GHz spectrum licenses but does not own them outright. Most of the licenses are owned by educational institutions, including universities, high schools and religious organizations.

The rules and starting date for Auction 108 will arrive on the heels of already-concluded Auction 110, which focused on the auction of spectrum licenses between 3.45GHz and 3.55GHz. That auction, dubbed the Andromeda auction by Light Reading, ended with $21.9 billion in winning bids.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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