May 5, 2016
The FCC is now getting ready to auction 600MHz spectrum to mobile operators at the end of the month.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says that TV broadcasters have agreed to clear 126MHz of the low-band airwaves to auction to wireless providers, starting on May 31.
"The 126 MHz initial clearing target ensures that wireless carriers and other forward auction bidders have their chance to compete for the maximum amount of lowband 'beachfront' spectrum," says FCC chairman in a statement.
The massive amount of paired spectrum available in the 600MHz auction means that it could dwarf even the hugely valuable AWS-3 spectrum, which earned $45 billion in 2015. Some commentators are even predicting that it could double the total of the AWS auction. (See Hey Big Spenders! AT&T, Dish & VZ Splash Cash on Spectrum.)
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There are 104 companies and organizations that are eligible to bid in the auction. These include all the major US operators, except Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), as well as outsiders, like Sprint's majority owner, SoftBank Corp. (See FCC's Wheeler: Go High for 5G, 600MHz Switch Will Be Slow.)
The 600MHz auction phase, like the AWS-3 sell-off, could still take months to play out. (See 600MHz Auction Could Take Months to Shake Out.)
But is it 5G?
The FCC's Wheeler once again associated the low-band 600MHz spectrum with "the age of 5G," in his statement. He has previously said that 600MHz could help "accelerate US deployment of 5G" by using it for the "deployment of a wide-area 5G coverage layer."
This makes some sense, it usually takes a couple of years for operators to get spectrum ready for commericial deployment. For instance, commercial AWS-3 LTE-Advanced deployments are expected to start in 2018.
So, 600MHz would likely be ready for use in 2019 or 2020, just as mobile 5G networks are expected to arrive. The strengh of 600MHz, meanwhile, is that it improves wide-range and in-building coverage.
This is stark contrast to the centimeter and milimeter wave bands that the FCC also wants to open up. These should deliver high-speed services but in short-range small cell-type deployments. Most of the test licenses for 28GHz and 39GHz radios so far are asking to test at ranges of under a kilometer or up to 5kms. (See AT&T Will Do More 5G Tests in N.J.)
Sprint, meanwhile, is now pushing its own 2.5GHz spectrum as a 5G low-band option for the US. "We view our 2.5GHz spectrum as the low-band spectrum of 5GHz," CEO Marcello Claure said on the operator's second-quarter earnings call earlier this week. (See Sprint CEO: Our Spectrum Is for 5G.)
Of course, working on defining the 5G specification is beginning now. So it remains to be seen if the technology can be created to enable both low-band and milimeter wave spectrum services over 5G, as the FCC's Wheeler appears to want.
Nonetheless, it seems that the long-delayed 600MHz auction will finally provide a major windfall for the US government.
— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading
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