Bidding Drops Off in FCC's 28 GHz Auction

Bidding has dropped off dramatically in the last two rounds of the FCC's 28 GHz spectrum auction.

Since the auction launched Nov. 14, provisionally winning bids (PWBs) in each round have increased by at least $6 million each round, and in some cases over $20 million.

But in the first round Monday, Dec. 10, round 51 of the auction, the bidding increased by less than a half million dollars ($488,580) and in round 52, by only $389,570.

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Those not actively bidding could lose their chance to bid in future rounds, so the dramatic drop-off could signal the auction is winding down.

So far, the aggregate winning bids for all 2,891 licenses total $678,286,250. Only 181 out of 3,072 license remain either not bid for or have had bids retracted.

The FCC does not have to have bids for all the licenses, which it could put into a follow-up auction sometime down the road.

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One of the more sought-after is the geographically contained Hawaii market, where a pair of Honolulu county-sized licenses are going for an aggregate $20 million-plus.

The FCC is looking for wireless carriers to boost their spectrum holdings as they prepare to roll out 5G service at speeds that should make wireless an undisputed full-fledged competitor to wired broadband.

There are 40 qualified bidders competing for the 28 GHz spectrum, including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, but none of the major cable operators eyeing wireless plays—though Cox is signed up for the 24 GHz auction of spectrum for 5G, which has larger license sizes and which will begin as soon as the 28 GHz auction ends.

The FCC concedes it has never pushed so much spectrum into the market at one time, which could mean those lower prices, but the point is to get the spectrum out there "fast" given that wireless carriers have been talking up the need for speed and bandwidth for an internet of everything, 5G world.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.