All of the big US wireless network operators appear to have registered to participate in the FCC's millimeter-wave spectrum auction, scheduled to start in December. However, it appears that all of the nation's major cable operators -- including Comcast, Charter Communications and Altice USA -- have opted to sit it out.
As noted by Telecompetitor, the FCC released the names of the entities that have registered to bid in its upcoming millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum auction. The agency has boasted that the auction will be the biggest of its kind, releasing thousands of megahertz of high-band spectrum. Specifically, the agency's Auction 103 is scheduled to start December 10 and will offer fully 2,400MHz of spectrum across the combined upper 37GHz and 39GHz bands and another 1,000MHz of spectrum in the 47GHz band.
However, Auction 103 represents the third time the FCC is offering up mmWave spectrum (spectrum above 20GHz). The agency's two previous mmWave spectrum auctions -- of 24GHz and 28GHz spectrum licenses -- generated only $2.7 billion in winning bids. That's far below the $20 billion in bids generated by the agency's 600MHz incentive auction that ended in 2017. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile walked away with the bulk of the FCC's 24GHz and 28GHz spectrum licenses in auctions that ended earlier this year.
And, as in the FCC's previous mmWave auctions, it appears that Comcast, Charter and Altice will not bid for spectrum in the agency's December mmWave auction. At least, the cable companies aren't referenced in the documents as filed with the FCC for the entities that registered to participate in the agency's December auction.
Cox -- America's third-largest cable TV company -- did register to participate in the FCC's recent 24GHz spectrum auction, but it did not purchase any spectrum. However, it does not appear to be listed among the entities bidding in the FCC's upcoming December auction.
AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular and Verizon are all referenced in documents filed by entities planning to bid in the FCC's upcoming auction, as are Windstream, Dish Network, GCI and Columbia Capital.
(For those who are interested, companies often participate in FCC auctions under "bidding entities" and it's sometimes difficult to connect the bidding entity to the company that's actually doing the bidding. In the FCC's upcoming Auction 103, for example, Verizon appears to be bidding under the "Straight Path Spectrum" entity given Verizon is listed as the "contact organization" for Straight Path Spectrum in its FCC filings. However, sometimes the connections between the two aren't so clear: For example, Columbia Capital -- a venture capital firm with a long history of spectrum investments -- appears to be bidding through the "High Band License Co" entity, considering that a top Columbia Capital executive is named in the entity's ownership documents and the two organizations list the same phone number. Similarly, Dish Network appears to be bidding as "Window Wireless" considering that Window Wireless listed Dish's corporate headquarters under its "contact address.")
Sprint and US Cellular representatives confirmed that the companies are indeed planning to participate in the FCC's upcoming mmWave spectrum auction. But none of the other companies contacted by Light Reading about the auction -- including AT&T, Verizon, Windstream, Dish, Columbia Capital, Comcast, Cox, Charter and Altice -- immediately responded to questions about whether they are participating.
It's also worth noting that a number of smaller telecom providers -- such as OptimERA, LICT Corporate and VTel -- also registered to participate in Auction 103. Such companies often register to bid in FCC auctions, and often only bid on a few spectrum licenses in their respective areas.
Of course, it's no real surprise that Sprint and T-Mobile are both registered to participate in the FCC's December auction, considering that the agency issued a waiver that will allow the two companies to communicate during the auction because of their proposed merger, as noted by Multichannel News. Normally companies cannot communicate with each other during an FCC auction -- for example, AT&T and AMG Technology Investment Group were recently fined for communicating during the FCC's recent CAF II auction.
While the FCC has been rushing to release more mmWave spectrum for 5G, those in the industry continue to clamor for midband spectrum like the 3.5GHz CBRS band or the C-Band, arguing such spectrum toes an ideal line between covering large geographic areas and transmitting large amounts of data. Signals in mmWave spectrum, on the other hand, cannot travel more than several thousand feet.