cellphone tower

The C-band auction gets underway tomorrow, pitting 57 entities against one another for coveted mid-band wireless spectrum.

All three major mobile carriers, as well as smaller carriers, cable companies, fixed wireless internet service providers (WISPs) and others have qualified to bid in the auction, also known as Auction 107 or the 3.7 GHz auction.

The C-band includes 280 MHz of spectrum between 3.7 and 3.98 GHz. It’s viewed as mid-band spectrum well suited to 5G deployment because it is seen as offering the optimum mixture of range and speed.

Recent estimates of how much money the auction will raise are in the tens of billions of dollars. MITRE expects the auction to raise about $25 billion, while New Street Research reportedly forecasts $51 billion.

C-Band Auction

C-band licenses will be awarded by partial economic area (PEA) and each license will include 20 MHz of spectrum. The band is adjacent to the CBRS band and network operators may be able to combine holdings in that band with C-band spectrum for a speed or capacity boost.

The CBRS band includes licensed and unlicensed spectrum. The recently completed CBRS auction raised $4.5 billion. Big winners included Verizon, Dish, Charter, Cox, Windstream and Comcast.

C-band spectrum traditionally has been used by satellite providers for video content distribution but advances in technology have made it feasible for them to move into a portion of the band, with the remainder freed up for use by mobile and fixed wireless providers.

The satellite providers will receive compensation for moving to just a portion of the band and have agreed to early clearing of spectrum in 46 PEAs by December 5, 2021 and in all remaining PEAs by December 5, 2023 .Spectrum in the first-to-be-cleared areas is expected to fetch a higher price than spectrum in bands that will be cleared at the later date.

One financial research firm specializing in telecom offers a caveat about C-band spectrum, however. According to MoffettNathanson Research, not all mid-band spectrum is created equal.

T-Mobile’s mid-band spectrum holdings in the 2.5 GHz band are lower frequency and therefore more efficient – and valuable – in comparison with C-band spectrum, according to the researchers. Deployment costs will be considerably higher in the C-band because cell sites will have to be deployed more densely, the researchers have said.

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