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November 19, 2020
Although Altice USA, Globalstar and Viasat initially registered interest in the FCC's C-band spectrum auction, they are not among the 57 entities that are participating in the event.
"We think C-band will be highly sought after for 5G buildouts, especially by those lacking significant low- and midband holdings," wrote the financial analysts at Raymond James. They noted that they expect the final 57 qualified bidders in the auction – down from an initial 74 registrants – to generate a total of around $30 billion in bids.
Altice's absence from the C-band auction is noteworthy as it further separates the cable company from its larger peers Charter Communications and Comcast.
Although all three cable companies – Comcast, Charter and Altice – have entered the mobile industry through MVNO agreements, their strategies are increasingly diverging.
For example, Comcast and Charter both purchased substantial amounts of spectrum in the FCC's recent CBRS spectrum auction, which concluded in the summer. Specifically, Comcast spent around $459 million for 830 licenses, and Charter spent around $464 million for 210 licenses.
Altice did not purchase any CBRS spectrum.
And in the upcoming C-band auction, Comcast and Charter are bidding via a 50/50 joint venture called C&C Wireless Holding Company.
The Raymond James analysts speculated that Altice dropped out of the C-band auction because license prices "are likely to be high" in the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas where Altice operates.
"We believe the continued T-Mobile partnership and unlicensed spectrum will likely serve their needs," the Raymond James analysts wrote of Altice.
Comcast and Charter, for their part, are widely expected to use their CBRS spectrum holdings, and possibly their C-band spectrum holdings, to build wireless operations in locations where they count large numbers of MVNO customers. Doing so could significantly reduce the amount of money they pay Verizon for wholesale access to its network.
Altice, meanwhile, initially signaled its interest in the wireless industry via its 2017 MVNO agreement with Sprint. In 2018, Altice boasted of its plans to run a "full infrastructure-based MVNO" that would supply everything, including "the SIM, roaming and network partners, data and Internet access, voice messaging, rate charging, customer care and billing." Basically, Altice explained, its MVNO would operate everything except the radio access network (RAN).
This set-up allowed Altice to commercially launch mobile services in 2019 with a white-hot offer: a $20 per line per month "price for life" option for its cable customers, alongside a $30 per line per month offer for everyone else who lives "in or near" its 21-state cable footprint (which includes much of New York City).
But things today look much different for Altice. T-Mobile successfully merged with Sprint, becoming Altice's new MVNO partner. And now, Altice's cheapest unlimited mobile plan starts at $40 per month; the cable company's pricing now aligns much more closely with what Comcast and Charter are offering.
Also, during the past few months, Altice has been busy with a failed attempt to purchase Cogeco.
Verizon, meantime, inked new MVNO agreements with Comcast and Charter.
As for the upcoming C-band auction, the Raymond James analysts noted it will start in December; they speculated that bidding would stretch well into the first quarter of next year.
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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