FCC Launches First 5G Mid-Band Auction

(Image credit: Future Media)

The FCC is holding its first ever auction of mid-band spectrum for 5G. 

It is the auction of 70 MHz worth of county-based Priority Access Licenses (PALs) (a whopping 22,631 of them) in the 3550-3650 MHz 93.5 GHz) band. It is them most-ever flexible-use licenses available in a single auction, the FCC said. Each license will be a 10 MHz unpaired channel. 

That band is being shared by federal and non-federal users, with incumbents--Navy radar, for example--having the top priority, followed by PALs and then general authorized users (GAAs). 

Related: FCC, NTIA Need to Be Dynamic Spectrum Duo 

“5G is critical to America’s global economic and technological leadership, and the start of the 3.5 GHz auction today is a key milestone in our work advancing this national priority,” said FCC chairman Ajit Pai marking firing the virtual starting gun, as it were. “Today, we celebrate the door opening to a wide array of potential bidders in the FCC’s CBRS spectrum auction (Auction 105)," said commissioner Michael O'Rielly, who has been a driving force behind the auction.  

Among the bidders are AT&T, Cox, Shenandoah Cable TV, Cable One, USSC, Verizon, and Windstream. 

The FCC voted 3-1 along party lines Oct. 23, 2018, to change the rules on licenses for the 3.5 GHz (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) band to make it more attractive for providers of 5G, which includes cable ops looking to up their mobile broadband game. The change was billed as a way to spur investment in the band and promote more efficient use, including for 5G.

Related: FCC Approves CBRS Auction Framework

The move was billed as targeted changes to spur investment in the band and promote more efficient use, including for 5G. The main adjustments were the decision to increase the sizes of priority access licenses (PALs) from census tracts to the larger county-sized licenses, a compromise from the larger partial economic area (PEA) licenses some had advocated for.

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.