The FCC has granted all licenses won in the auction of spectrum in the 3.45 GHz band that concluded earlier this year. There were thirteen winning bidders in the auction, including AT&T, Dish, T-Mobile, UScellular and smaller carriers.
The 3.45 GHz band is considered mid-band spectrum, which is viewed as supporting the optimum mixture of range and coverage for 5G services, whether mobile or fixed. Verizon previously won a large amount of mid-band spectrum in the C-band auction and although the company was approved to bid in the 3.45 GHz auction, it did not win any spectrum, perhaps because it had already bolstered its mid-band holdings.
In a press release about the 3.45 GHz license awards, FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said “the licenses we are granting today represent a wider variety of providers, including small businesses and rural carriers, who will help deliver on the promise of 5G to every corner of the country.”
The auction included 10 licenses per license area, each for 10 GHz of spectrum. No provider was allowed to win more than four licenses per license area, resulting in one third of the top 100 markets having at least four winning bidders.
This was an improvement over the 3.7 GHz band auction, in which only 10% of the top 100 markets had at least four winning bidders. It’s worth noting, though, that the total of 23 winning bidders in the 3.45 GHz auction is a fraction of what was seen in the CBRS auction, which had 228 winning bidders.
The difference undoubtedly relates to the size of the license areas in the auctions. The C-band and 3.45 GHz licenses were awarded by partial economic area (PEA), with each PEA typically comprised of multiple counties. CBRS licenses were awarded by county, making them more affordable for smaller providers.
Companies like AT&T, Dish and UScellular that won spectrum in the 3.45 GHz auction should be better positioned against T-Mobile, which has the lead in deploying 5G service in mid-band spectrum. T-Mobile gained a large trove of mid-band spectrum when it merged with Sprint in 2020.
T-Mobile has deployed 5G using that spectrum throughout a large part of the U.S. and has boasted that it could take other carriers years to catch up.