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Auction 96: could the end be near?

Despite an attempted shot of adrenalin, bidding continued to slow in the Federal Communications Commission’s Auction 96 of wireless spectrum licenses in the 1.9 GHz band. Only 78 new bids were placed through the seven rounds of bidding on Tuesday.

Bidding started out slow with just 16 new bids during round 58, only so slow throughout the day to just four new bids during the final round. The FCC increased the number of rounds from five to seven beginning on Tuesday in an attempt to speed up the process, with the auction set to continue until there are no new potential winning bids.

 

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As in the past several days, activity remains centered on smaller licenses with the most expensive license gaining attention today being the Indianapolis market, which garnered two new bids and pushing its total up to $7.7 million at No. 25 on the list. The lack of big-ticket items garnering new bids has dramatically slowed the accumulation of total potential winning bids, which tacked on just $16 million through the latest seven rounds and a total of $1.312 billion.

Dish Network, which is participating in the auction under the American H Block Wireless entity, had said before the auction that it would bid a minimum of $1.5 billion for the H-Block if the FCC would allow Dish to use that band in combination with its adjacent 30 megahertz of spectrum in the 2 GHz band for downlink transmission instead of having to split the spectrum channels for two-way traffic. The H-Block licenses had been split off from Dish’s original holdings in exchange for the company being able to use the spectrum originally set aside for satellite use to support terrestrial services.

The FCC has 176 H-Block licenses up for bid, with all but one having garnered a minimum potential winning bid. The holdout remains the North Platte, Neb./Colo., license that had its potential winning bid withdrawn late last week.

All 23 bidder that qualified to participate remain eligible to bid, with those winning licenses not to be announced until after the auction concludes. Qualified bidders include a number of entities labeled under the names of individuals as well as a handful of established telecom operators like Ntelos, NE Colorado Cellular and Puerto Rico Telephone Co.

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Most large operators are bypassing the current proceedings, looking instead to focus their spectrum gathering efforts on the upcoming AWS-3 auction expected to begin later this year and next year’s 600 MHz incentive auction. The biggest surprise among those not participating in the H-Block was Sprint, which currently controls the adjacent G-Block spectrum that it is using to power its nationwide LTE network. Sprint noted last November that it would bypass the auction as it looks to instead save its resources for acquiring sub 1-GHz spectrum.

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The AWS-3 auction includes a total of 50 megahertz of spectrum in the 1755-1780/2155-2180 MHz bands. That spectrum is adjacent to the 1.7/2.1 GHz spectrum bands currently used by a number of carriers to support LTE rollouts. The 600 MHz auction, which the FCC recently postponed until mid-2015, is expected to see serious money bid as the spectrum propagation characteristics allow for large coverage areas using a minimum of cell sites as well as superior in-building penetration compared with higher spectrum bands.

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