The FCC Closes First 5G Auction With $703M in Bids

Dan Jones
1/25/2019

The FCC has closed its first millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum auction for 5G services at a total of $702,572,410 in provisionally winning bids (PWBs) Thursday night.

The agency has 107 28GHz licenses still available, but has received no further bids, withdrawals or other action on the high-band licenses after 176 rounds of bidding, since it started on November 14, 2018. "Therefore, bidding in the Commission's first auction of Upper Microwave Flexible Use Service licenses has concluded under the simultaneous stopping rule," the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said Thursday night. (See FCC's 28GHz 5G Auction Kicks Off With $36M+ in Bids.)

The agency is due to announce the start date for the 24GHz 5G auction next week. It is expected to follow hard on the heels of the 28GHz auction, despite the ongoing government shutdown. As the FCC has said it will continue spectrum auctions and bandwidth clearance, despite the fact that "most operations" will be suspended while the shutdown continues, the FCC said. (See 5G Auction Carries On Despite US Government Shutdown.)

The FCC will release to bidders in the 28GHz auction next week its deadline for winning bid payments. It will not, however, release the names of the winners until after the 24GHz auction is completed.

The 24GHz auction is expected to be more popular than the 28GHz since it covers more metro areas. The 28GHz auction is expected to largely involve Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) adding to its dominant 28GHz license pile. (See Forget 28GHz, the 24GHz Auction Is the One to Watch, Cable Nearly a No-Show in mmWave Auction and Verizon Buys Straight Path for $3.1B, Beating AT&T to 5G Spectrum.)

In the meantime, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) has just joined T-Mobile US Inc. and complink 5173|Sprint Corp.} in announcing a largely -- or fully, in Sprint's case -- sub-6GHz focused 5G strategy. Lower band 5G will increase signal range, coverage and penetration at the expense of maximum over-the-air speeds. (See AT&T Low-Band 5G to Arrive With Samsung Phone in 2H19 and AT&T's New Nationwide, Mobile 5G Timeline.)

Millimeter wave (mmWave) delivers maximum download speeds (1 Gbit/s being the common touchstone), but what users gain in speed, they lose in coverage, with range at 1,000 to 2,000 feet for these high-band signals. If the millimeter wave signal isn't blocked by glass, walls, leaves, or human flesh [ugh -- Ed.] that is. (See Millimeter Wave 5G: The Usain Bolt of Wireless?, Could 5G Have Found Its Glass Ceiling?, 5G: The Density Question and 5G Phone Designers Coping With 'Human Blockage'.)

Still, 2019 will be a busy year in mmWave 5G auctions for the FCC. As well as the 24GHz auction, the agency has announced a "major spectrum auction" that will combine the upper 37GHz, 39GHz and 47GHz millimeter wave bands, and will be held later this year. (See FCC Plans Major Spectrum Auction in 2019.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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