700 MHz Auction to End Soon?

The auction to sell off spectrum that could propel U.S. carriers into the next generation of broadband wireless services is expected to close "within days," according to analyst firm ISuppli Corp.

The 700 MHz auction has been running since Jan. 24 and has garnered $19,592,379,000 in bids for the analog TV spectrum so far. (See FCC Auctions Hit $19B.) The bandwidth will be freed up as broadcasters make the required move to digital TV by February 2009.

The new spectrum is expected to help drive the deployment of 4G services in the U.S.

"[The] auction of frequency in the 700MHz band represents the wireless world’s last great spectrum land grab, and will catalyze the development of wireless broadband," an iSuppli report reads. "The winners of this $20 billion bidding war will make technology and standards decisions that will have major ramifications, both positive and negative, for individual members of the wireless supply chain."

Major wireless operators such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Verizon Wireless , as well as tech giants like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), all have a stake in the 700 MHz race. Which companies are actually winning is still shrouded in secrecy, however, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn't allow bidders to reveal their hands for fear of collusion between the participants.

The winners won't be revealed until sometime after the auction closes. "We'll know a whole lot more in a few weeks," says Steve Mather, principal analyst of financial services at iSuppli.

The biggest prize on offer is the C band, which will be partially "open access" under FCC rules. The band was originally sold under a nationwide license, but the regional licenses ended up as bigger earners than the combined entity. This makes it less likely that one single company will own all of the C spectrum.

The biggest disappointment of the auction has been the nationwide D band, which received a single $472 million bid. The conditions attached to the spectrum -- the winner would have to build out a nationwide network good enough to meet public safety specifications -- have made the band unattractive. The FCC will likely rewrite the rules on the band and auction off the spectrum at a later date.

The FCC hasn't returned Unstrung's calls about the auction. The volume of bids in the auction has clearly been slowing during the last week, however. (See The Bids Go On.)

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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