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Auction Fever Rising

5:30 PM -- Bidding in the ongoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) auction of radio-frequency spectrum for Advanced Wireless Services topped the $10 billion mark at the end of the week, with wireless carriers T-Mobile US Inc. and Verizon Wireless , as expected, leading the way. T-Mobile, which suffers from a "spectrum gap" compared to its competitors, had bid $3.21 billion total and Verizon $2.8 billion.

The surprise of the week was the fade-out of two consortia expected to be major players in the action for the spectrum, which will be used to provide a variety of sophisticated services to consumers and businesses. Wireless DBS, a group that included News Corp. (NYSE: NWS), its satellite TV subsidiary DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV), and EchoStar Satellite LLC , dropped out of the bidding on Thursday, while Dolan Family Holdings, a group headed by Cablevision Systems chairman Charles Dolan, also left after its bids for airwaves in several major cities were topped.

The surprise winner of the week isn't even bidding. U.K. satellite company Inmarsat plc (London: ISAT), which already owns big chunks of spectrum in North America, saw its shares rise 10 percent at midweek as investors realized that disappointed bidders might turn instead to leasing spectrum from asset holders like Inmarsat.

"The ongoing U.S. spectrum auction is a key driver for Inmarsat," wrote Dresdner Kleinwort analyst Aysha Zaman in a report. "[The] surge in bidding prices... is not only supportive for the valuation of ISAT's spectrum assets but increases the chance that greenfield players view ISAT as a cheaper alternative."

The auction, which will move through successive rounds until there are no more bids, could last up to a month and bring in $15 billion or more to the U.S. Treaury.

— Richard Martin, Senior Editor, Unstrung

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