Viewers during auction. FCC Awards Most Licenses Won

All three major U.S. wireless carriers – AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – are qualified to bid in the upcoming auction of mid-band spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, according to an FCC public notice released yesterday.

In addition, 79 smaller carriers qualified to bid. The 2.5 GHz auction, also known as Auction 108, is scheduled to start July 29. 

Mid-band spectrum is widely viewed as supporting the optimum mixture of speed and coverage for 5G mobile and fixed wireless service.

Some entities plan to bid under unfamiliar names and the FCC website currently does not support the ability to determine the entities behind the bidding names for Auction 108. Cellco Partnership, however, is a well-known bidding entity for Verizon. And according to a previous news report, Dish also qualified to bid in the auction under the name Carbonate Wireless.

The licenses in the 2.5 GHz auction will be issued on a county-by-county basis, but not all U.S. counties will be included in the auction. The band previously was dedicated to educational broadcast service (EBS), a service that was not broadly used. In past years, Sprint bought up licenses in the band throughout a large part of the U.S. from the educational entities that held them, and those licenses transferred to T-Mobile when the two companies merged. 

Additionally, some licenses in the 2.5 GHz band are held by tribal entities, who recently were given the option of obtaining licenses in tribal areas.

The upshot is that the licenses available for the auction are largely in rural areas. Up to three licenses are available per license area. The licenses range in size from 17.5 MHz to 50 MHz.  

Yellow bands were not available during Tribal window. Source: FCC

Auction 108

The rural nature of the available licenses likely led the FCC to make the decision to award licenses by county. The smaller companies that serve rural areas are more likely to be able to afford a county-size license rather than a license for an entire partial economic area (PEA). PEAs, often used in nationwide spectrum auctions, typically span multiple counties.

A previous auction of county-size licenses for mid-band spectrum in the CBRS band had 228 winners – a substantially larger number than seen in auctions with PEA-size licenses. 

The 2.5 GHz auction did not attract as many small bidders as the CBRS auction did, however. Only 93 companies applied to bid in the 2.5 GHz auction, which ultimately yielded the 82 bidders announced yesterday.

A list of bidders that qualified to participate in Auction 108 is available at this link.

A list of bidders that did not qualify can be found here.

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