FCC 28 GHz Auction Closes

The FCC's 28 GHz auction has closed, bringing in $702,572,410 for 2,965 licenses. That left the FCC with 107 licenses that drew no bids in the last round, round 176.

It was the last round because no new bids were placed and no waivers were exercised.

The commission said it would release a public notice next week with deadlines for payments. The identity of the winning bidders will not be disclosed until the end of the next auction, of 24 GHz spectrum, which will begin soon.

The commission said it would announce the start date of the 24 GHz auction next week as well. While there looked like potential movement on the government shutdown, the FCC auction staffers are paid out of proceeds, not appropriations, so the 24 GHz auction will be held shutdown or no, as was the case with the 28 GHz auction.

“The successful conclusion of our nation’s first high-band 5G spectrum auction is a significant step toward maintaining American leadership in 5G," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "But we can’t afford to rest on our laurels—and won’t. The FCC will continue to aggressively push more spectrum into the commercial marketplace. Our 24 GHz auction will begin soon, and we will then hold an auction of three more spectrum bands later this year. By making more spectrum available, promoting the deployment of wireless infrastructure, and modernizing our regulations—the three components of the FCC’s 5G FAST plan—we’ll ensure that American consumers reap the substantial benefits that will come from the next generation of wireless connectivity.”

There were 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.

The 28 GHz licenses are relatively small (county sized), collectively reaching only 25% of the population—so more rural areas—and are in a band with incumbent users to navigate, so the prices were not in the same ballpark as the broadcast incentive auction ($19 billion) or the AWS-3 auction (almost $45 billion), which both featured broad swaths of contiguous spectrum, in the case of the incentive auction after broadcasters were incentivized to move.

The FCC conceded with the 28 GHz auction that it had never pushed so much spectrum into the market at one time before, which could account for that relatively low-sounding bid total. But most of the spectrum had incumbents to account for and were in lower-population areas. Plus, the point was 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.

"[W]hen the auctioneer's gavel brought the 28 GHz auction to a close, from where I sit it looked to be a success. Now it's time to prepare for the next one," blogged Free State Foundation President Randolph May. 

Ari Meltzer, a Partner with communications law firm Wiley Rein, said his first impression was that the auction was a success. “The Auction 101 results provide a clear indication that the wireless industry views millimeter wave spectrum as an important part of our country’s 5G future," he said. "From Honolulu, Hawaii to Fulton, Illinois, bidders continued to recognize the need for more spectrum to satisfy our nation’s growing demand for wireless services.”Rick Engelman, a Wiley Rein engineering consultant, said the bid prices "rivaled, and in some cases exceeded, those reportedly paid in private 28 GHz transactions.”

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.