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3.45 GHz auction nears $21 billion

After a surge in bids last week, the 3.45 GHz spectrum auction has continued to steadily add to its bid total this week at a slower pace and after 68 rounds, stands at $20.77 billion.

After 50 rounds, the auction total was at $18.7 billion, and it has added another $2 billion in the 18 rounds since.

According to the FCC’s auction round information, of the available license types or “products,” 150 license types still have greater demand than supply, 306 have demand equal to the available number of licenses, and the number of license types with supply outweighing demand has dropped down to just 25.

Five rounds of bidding are being held each day. The auction’s clock phase will continue, with prices increasing every round, until demand is equal to or less than the available license types.

The Federal Communications Commission’s two most midband spectrum auctions, the blockbuster C-Band auction and the auction of shared CBRS spectrum, raised more than $80 billion and more than $4.58 billion, respectively. (For a more complete recap of recent midband spectrum auctions in the U.S., read this.)

The 3.45 GHz auction, also known as Auction 110, offers up 100 megahertz of prized midband spectrum, divided into ten 10-megahertz blocks, licensed by geographic areas known as Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), for a total of 4,060 flexible-use licenses across the contiguous United States. Sasha Javid, COO at Bitpath and former chief data officer and legal advisor on the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, is once again providing auction tracking that can be found here.

According to Javid’s analysis, demand has shifted to smaller markets, which typically signals that the auction has begun winding toward conclusion. The top five PEAs with the largest demand after round 68 were Eau Claire, Wisconsin; Muskogee, Oklahoma; Alton, Illinois; Flagstaff, Arizona; and Charleston, South Carolina.

There are some caveats that come along with the use of the 3.45 GHz band. The FCC has placed limitations on how much of it that any single bidder can accumulate: Bidders can’t hold more than four out of the 10 available licenses in a given PEA, or 40 megahertz of spectrum. In addition, there are nearly three dozen areas around the country where licenses winners will have to coordinate their use of the band with existing incumbent military systems; those areas include military training facilities, Navy home ports, shipyards and military test sites across the Western U.S., the Midwest and up the East Coast. The Department of Defense has been using the 3.45 GHz band for high- and low-powered radar systems, including fixed, mobile, shipborne and airborne systems, as well as testing and training related to those systems. For a deeper dive on the coordination locations, check out Javid’s auction tracking page.

There are 33 qualified bidders participating in the 3.45 GHz auction. All three national cellular network operators are participating, as well as Dish Network (reportedly bidding under the name Weminuche LLC), US Cellular and a number of small and regional network operators. Telecom-focused private equity company Grain Management, which bid $1.277 billion for 10 C-Band licenses and was the fifth-highest bidder overall, is participating as NewLevel III.

The FCC has noted that the 3.45 GHz band, plus the neighboring 3.5 GHz CBRS band and the 3.7 GHz C Band spectrum, represent 530 megahertz of contiguous midband spectrum for 5G. Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has said that the build-out requirements for 3.45 GHz are the “most aggressive build-out obligations of any spectrum auctioned for 5G to date. … We insist on getting infrastructure built twice as fast as what the agency has required in other recent 5G bands.”

Those build-out benchmarks include providing service to at least 45% of the population in areas where bidders win licenses within four years, and at least 80% of the population within eight years for mobile or point-to-multipoint services. If the licenses are used for IoT services, winners have to build out to 35% of the geographic area won within four years and 65% of the geographic area within eight years.

Looking for more insights on midband spectrum? Download RCR Wireless News’ recent editorial report, Minding the Midband, and check out the accompanying webinar featuring experts from Aurora Insight, Analog Devices and LitePoint.


Kelly Hill
Kelly reports on network test and measurement, as well as the use of big data and analytics. She first covered the wireless industry for RCR Wireless News in 2005, focusing on carriers and mobile virtual network operators, then took a few years’ hiatus and returned to RCR Wireless News to write about heterogeneous networks and network infrastructure. Kelly is an Ohio native with a masters degree in journalism from the University of California, Berkeley, where she focused on science writing and multimedia. She has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, The Oregonian and The Canton Repository. Follow her on Twitter: @khillrcr

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