The FCC today released rules for Auction 110 of spectrum between 3.45-3.55 GHz, also known as the 3.45 GHz band. The auction is scheduled to start October 5.
The rules call for licenses to be auctioned in 10 blocks, each containing 10 MHz of spectrum. Licenses will be for partial economic areas (PEAs), creating a total of 4,060 licenses.
No bidder will be able to win more than four blocks – a rule that, according to Steve Coran, outside counsel for the Wireless Service Providers Association, is aimed at protecting the nation’s major wireless carriers from each other.
The 3.45 GHz band is considered mid-band spectrum, which is widely viewed as supporting the optimum mixture of speeds and range for 5G services, which could be fixed or mobile. The recent auction of 280 MHz of mid-band spectrum known as the C-band spectrum set records by raising over $80 billion.
If bidding in the 3.45 GHz auction is equally strong, the auction could raise in the range of $28.5 billion. The spectrum may be particularly valuable to network operators that won C-band spectrum because the bands are adjacent to one another and potentially could be combined for speed or capacity boosts.
It would seem that the auction is unlikely to have any difficulty meeting the reserve price of $14.7 billion, which was set at that level to cover sharing and relocation costs for current users of the band.
The band includes non-federal users, who will move to adjacent spectrum, and federal users, who will share the band with auction winners.
3.45 GHz Auction Rules
Initially, the FCC proposed to auction five 20-MHz spectrum blocks in the 3.45 GHz auction, but according to FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, the rules were changed at his suggestion to make it more viable for smaller entities to obtain spectrum in the auction.
Even a 10-MHz block could be beyond the reach of many smaller carriers, however, considering that PEAs are relatively large geographic areas typically comprised of multiple counties, and PEA licenses may be too costly for many smaller carriers. The auctions in which smaller bidders have been most successful in winning licenses are those in which licenses are issued by county.
The 3.45 GHz auction will, however, include bidding credit discounts for eligible small businesses, rural service providers and for the deployment of facilities and services to qualified federally recognized tribal lands. Details about the bidding credit discounts can be found in this FCC public notice.
The 3.45 GHz auction rules call for the auction to be conducted in two phases, the FCC explains in a press release. In the first phase, network operators will bid for generic spectrum blocks. In the assignment phase, those winning in the first phase will bid on specific blocks within the band.