First 5G-Specific US Spectrum Auctions Coming November

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the first two 5G-specific high-band spectrum auctions in the US are coming in November, with more to follow in 2019.

The auctions will sell off the 28GHz millimeter wave (mmWave) band, with the bidding expected to start November 14, and the 24GHz band to be sold off "immediately afterward," Pai said. He announced the auctions on a blog on Medium. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote to finalize the rules on the auctions at meeting on August 2. (See Trump Bill Paves Way for US 5G Spectrum Auction Later in 2018 and FCC: High-Band 5G Spectrum Cleared for Take-Off in 2019.)

"With so many wanting so much spectrum for 5G, we’re moving as quickly as possible to make these bands available for commercial use," the FCC chairman writes.

High-band millimeter wave spectrum is expected to be a cornerstone of future gigabit-speed 5G network services. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US Inc. have all tested 28GHz spectrum for fixed or mobile services, sometimes both.

Pai expects to hold 3 more millimeter wave auctions in the 2nd half of 2019 in the 37GHz, 39GHz, and 47GHz bands. "To help facilitate that auction on this timeline, I’m proposing rules to clean up the 39 GHz band and move incumbents into rationalized license holdings," Pai writes.

The chairman didn't say exactly how much spectrum will be auctioned yet, but the scale and scope of these planned high-band auctions appear to promise to open up the largest tranche of spectrum for wireless broadband yet seen in the US.

In July 2016, the FCC said that it planned to open up 3.85GHz of licensed spectrum in the 28GHz, 37GHz, and 39GHz band. The agency later voted to add 700MHz in the 24GHz band, and nearly 1GHz in the 47GHz band.

This would be an embarrassment of radio riches compared to earlier low-band 4G auctions. The 600MHz auction in 2017 offered 108MHz of spectrum nationwide. (See T-Mobile, Dish & Comcast Big Winners in $19.8B 600MHz Auction.)

The August FCC meeting should further clarify exactly what will be offered in the forthcoming auctions.

One big question that definitely can't be answered yet is whether T-Mobile and Sprint will be allowed to participate in the new auctions, which would likely give them a deal more spectrum build out a 5G spectrum network in 2019 and beyond. T-Mobile said it would like to take part back when it announced the merger in April, but admitted that it didn't know what would be allowed with regard to the 5G auctions.

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

DanJones 7/11/2018 | 7:57:42 PM
How the hell do you price for these auctions? They're so different from the 4G offerings. One wonders what on earth the minimum price could be set at!
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