FCC to Take Long Holiday Break from 28 GHz Auction

The FCC's 28 GHz auction will take a a long holiday break starting Dec. 21. That's if it is still going on by then. 

As of round 66, the 5G spectrum auction had collected $685,220,210 in provisionally winning bids for 2,927 licenses, which was only $169,670 more in bids than round 65, the smallest increase since the bidding began Nov. 14. 

The FCC says that "if the auction is still going on, bidding will be suspended early in the afternoon Friday, Dec. 21, and that if it is still on a four-round-per-day schedule, that will be at 1 p.m., which means after round two of that day, and won't resume until Jan. 3 at 10 a.m.

Asked in a C-SPAN interview for its Communicators Series about the auction's relatively low bid total compared to, say, the broadcast incentive forward auction total of $19 billion, and what that said about the appetite for that high-band spectrum, the chairman would only say that "different spectrum bands have different properties to them, saying some may be better for coverage, some may be more perfect for capacity and that sometimes drives market interest in a different way." He said those different technical characteristics are something that every body generally takes into account.

While Pai said he could not talk about an ongoing auction "obvious reasons," commissioner Brendan Carr, at the FCC's public meeting Wednesday (Dec. 12), said the auction was looking promising, citing that 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. 

Carr 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.