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Did Dish eke out an Andromeda victory in 5G?

Dish Network announced this week it raised $5.25 billion in bonds, ahead of its expectations of around $4 billion. The company said the cash would "finance the potential purchase of wireless spectrum licenses and for general corporate purposes, including the buildout of wireless infrastructure."

Some financial analysts believe the development stems from Dish's massive spending in the FCC's ongoing Andromeda auction of midband spectrum. Meaning, Dish could have acquired roughly a fourth of all the spectrum available in the FCC's ongoing auction.

Further, recent delays in the availability of related spectrum, the nearby C-band, could ultimately raise the value of Dish's new spectrum holdings.

"The more spectrum a carrier has in bands from 2.5GHz through 4.2GHz, the better they are positioned competitively," analysts at New Street Research explained in a note to investors this week. And Dish, they said, likely has dramatically improved its competitive positioning via its bidding in the FCC's ongoing Andromeda auction. "The more of this [Andromeda] spectrum Dish gets, the more they are worth."

Andromeda wraps up

The FCC's Auction 110 of spectrum between 3.45GHz and 3.55GHz, which started October 5, has been dubbed the "Andromeda auction" by Light Reading because it sounds cool. It has so far raised $21.9 billion in winning bids, making it the nation's third-biggest spectrum auction ever, though bidding will likely come to a close in the next few days.

As in prior spectrum auctions, the FCC is only releasing the amount and geographic location of each bid and not the identity of the bidder. The agency is expected to release the identity of winning bidders after the auction is over, likely sometime in December or January.

Most analysts expect AT&T to spend around $9 billion on licenses in the Andromeda auction. Verizon and T-Mobile were widely expected to comprise the bulk of the rest of the spending in the auction. Dish was only expected to spend around $1 billion to $2 billion in the auction. After all, Dish has yet to turn on its open RAN 5G network.

However, following the announcement of Dish's new $5.25 billion in bonds, the analysts at New Street now believe the company has bid heavily in the Andromeda auction. "We now assume Dish spends $5.25 billion (though it could be higher)," they wrote. "We think it highly likely that AT&T will spend nearly $9 billion for 40MHz nationwide. We think it is likely that Verizon pulled out. This leaves 36MHz for T-Mobile, small carriers and financial buyers."

The Andromeda auction comprises a total of 100MHz around the country, though bidders are restricted to a limit of 40MHz each.

A C-band tailwind

The 100MHz of midband spectrum up for grabs in the Andromeda auction has been described as "Goldilocks" spectrum because of its speedy and broad propagation characteristics. It's very similar to C-band spectrum – the FCC's auction of 280MHz of C-band spectrum ended earlier this year with a record $81 billion in winning bids.

However, clouds have gathered around the C-band. Airline companies and others worry that 5G transmissions in the C-band could affect aircraft radio altimeters, a situation that has forced Verizon and AT&T to delay their C-band network buildouts by one month.

But one month is not enough, according to some airline companies. And that's making the future of 5G in the C-band difficult to predict. "It is unclear when C-band will be usable," noted the analysts at New Street.

If 5G in the C-band is delayed further, Dish's Andromeda purchases could gain even more value considering there are currently no restrictions on the buildout of 5G in that band.

Dish might even consider leasing its Andromeda spectrum holdings to Verizon and AT&T, according to the New Street analysts. "It will be years before Dish would need all of the 3.45GHz portfolio and it could be a while before the C-band issues are resolved," they speculated.

Whatever the result, Dish's likely spending in the Andromeda auction seems to have been effective. According to the New Street analysts, most C-band spectrum licenses sold for around $1.10 per MHz-POP. The per MHz-POP calculation is applied to most spectrum transactions and reflects the number of people covered compared with the amount of spectrum available, though it can be affected by a wide variety of factors.

The Andromeda auction of spectrum between 3.45GHz and 3.55GHz ought to settle around $0.71 per MHz-POP.

Related posts:

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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