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All major U.S. wireless carriers have filed applications to participate in an auction of mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum scheduled to start July 29, as have several dozen smaller companies.

AT&T, T-Mobile, UScellular and 36 other companies submitted complete applications, according to the FCC, while Verizon, bidding under its Cellco partnership subsidiary, and 53 other companies filed incomplete applications.

It’s not unusual for a large percentage of spectrum auction applications to be deemed incomplete initially. In past auctions, most companies that initially filed incomplete applications were ultimately able to participate.

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The companies with incomplete applications have until June 23 to address whatever issues were raised by the FCC.

A Disappointing Turnout?

If every company that submitted an application is able to bid, the auction will have 93 bidders, which is more than in some other recent auctions. Nevertheless, some people may find the number disappointing.

Here’s why.

T-Mobile already has leases for a large amount of spectrum in the 2.5 GHz band, which it obtained when it merged with Sprint. The licenses that are currently available are largely in rural areas, which likely motivated the FCC to make the decision to award licenses by county.

Some small rural carriers can afford county-size licenses but typically are unable to afford licenses for larger geographic areas.   

To illustrate, the 3.5 GHz auction, which awarded licenses by partial economic area (PEA) had just 13 winners. (A PEA is typically comprised of multiple counties.) In contrast, the CBRS auction, which awarded licenses by county, had 228 winners.

With only 93 potential 2.5 GHz auction bidders, however, the auction is guaranteed to have fewer winners than the CBRS auction did.

Auction Details

Up to three licenses will be available per county in the 2.5 GHz auction, to be known as Auction 108. The licenses are of different sizes, ranging in size from 17.5 MHz to 50 MHz.

The auction will use an ascending clock approach.

It’s quite common for large companies to bid under unfamiliar names in spectrum auctions. The FCC provides an interface to enable interested parties to determine the identity of the company that is actually behind a bidding entity, but that function was not working for 2.5 GHz auction bidders today.

According to one news report, however, Dish submitted an application under the name Carbonate Wireless.

A full list of bidders with complete applications can be found at this link.

The list of bidders with incomplete applications is available here.

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