wireless towerThe “clock phase” of the TV broadcast spectrum reverse auction was completed Friday, explained FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement. A total of 84 MHz of spectrum will now be released into the broadband marketplace, Pai said.

According to news reports, the total of winning bids came to $19.6 billion.

The identities of wireless network operators that won spectrum licenses were not released. It is not yet known which operators won which specific blocks within the 600 MHz frequency bands because that will be determined through an additional auction, explains a report from media outlet Broadcasting & Cable, which has a contributor who has studied the intricacies of the complex reverse auction rules.

The TV broadcast spectrum reverse auction gave broadcasters the option of voluntarily relinquishing some or all of their licenses in exchange for sharing in auction proceeds with the U.S. government. Broadcasters indicated the amount they would require in order to relinquish spectrum and network operators indicated the amount they would be willing to pay for spectrum. Bids were adjusted over multiple auction rounds that carried on for several months in the later part of 2016 and into early 2017.

Some industry observers questioned whether the auction might fail but several weeks ago, the FCC announced that the auction had achieved the minimum results necessary to cover relocation costs for impacted broadcasters and to return an established minimum amount to the government. At that time, winning bids had been reached for 70 MHz of spectrum and that number has not changed, according to Broadcasting & Cable. The total amount of spectrum that will be freed up is actually 84 MHz because 14 MHz of guard band spectrum also has been released, the author explains.

Guard band spectrum will be made available for unlicensed use.

TV Broadcast Spectrum Reverse Auction
In his statement about the 600 MHz auction, Paid said, “These low-band airwaves will improve wireless coverage across the country and will play a particularly important role in deploying mobile broadband services in rural areas.”

The term “beach front property” is sometimes used to describe spectrum in the 600 MHz, 700 MHz and other lower-frequency bands. Lower-frequency spectrum has excellent propagation, enabling a network operator to cover comparatively large distances with a single cellsite. Hence Pai’s comment about rural areas.

Recently, however, some industry observers have questioned how appealing low-band spectrum is to the largest nationwide network operators. Financial researchers Moffett Nathanson, who specialize in telecom, recently argued that higher-frequency spectrum may be more appealing to network operators because it is better for boosting coverage in high-traffic areas – a more compelling need now that nationwide 4G LTE networks are largely completed.

Network operators also are becoming increasingly aggressive on the 5G front. Those networks are expected to be deployed in ultra-high-frequency bands such as 28 GHz, 37 GHz and 39 GHz – and network operators may have been unwilling to bid aggressively in the TV broadcast reverse auction because they may be saving their capital for 5G spectrum.

Qualifying bidders for the 600 MHz auction included 28 companies with rural bidding credits.