FCC 28 GHz Auction Gets Commissioner Shout-Out

With 60 rounds now under its belt, the FCC's 28 GHz spectrum auction has drawn $682,417,530 in provisionally winning bids (PWBs) for 2,917 licenses. The FCC still has 155 licenses without bids, but the auction could close without those bids, with the licenses re-auctioned at a later time.

The aggregate bid amount has been increasing by only about $450,000 over the last four rounds, a far cry from the multi-million dollar bids in earlier rounds. But each of those rounds has also featured at least one new bid, reducing the total of licenses with no bids, so there is still some movement.

The auction will close when there are no new bids on any licenses since the FCC has long passed the low minimum aggregate bid of about $40 million.

At the FCC's public meeting Wednesday (Dec. 12), commissioner Brendan Carr said the auction was looking promising, citing the almost $700 million in bids for spectrum that had some unique issues, including that much of the band was already licensed, most of the license areas already had an incumbent, and what was left had only a quarter of the population. He said given that uncharted territory, the auction bidding to date showed that there was an appetite for the spectrum. 

He suggested that might be because of advances in 5G speeds, including one carrier that just announced it has been able to deliver 2-4 gigabit-per-second speeds up to half a mile from small cells with trees and buildings for the signals to negotiate.

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 before, 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.