FCC's 28 GHz Auction Wanes as Holiday Break Approaches

With 87 rounds under its collective belt, the FCC's 28 GHz spectrum auction is definitely on the wane. Over the past four rounds, the new money bid for almost 3,000 licenses has decreased from $93,800 to $46,940 to $27,100 to $21,200.

But that is still down from the total number of provisionally winning bids in round 69 after some bids were withdrawn. 

There was actually one new bid over that stretch, so the total number of licenses bid increased from 2,937 to 2,938. The current total dollar amount for all those provisionally winning bids (PWBs) is $688,373,820, so the auction almost certainly won't crack $1 billion and perhaps not $700 million unless there is suddenly a flurry of activity over those bids or the 133 licenses for which there are currently no bids.

There will be only one more round Friday (Dec. 21) before the FCC suspends bidding for the holiday break, resuming Jan. 3 at 10 a.m., so if the auction doesn't close after that Friday round, it continues into the new year, with a 24 GHz auction lined up to begin as soon as this auction ends.  The FCC will not reveal who has won what in the 28 GHz auction until that second auction also closes. 

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. 

The 28 GHz licenses are high-band spectrum, still valuable but less so than low-band because of propagation characteristics; are in relatively small (county sized) chunks, collectively reach only 25% of the population--so more rural areas; and are in a band with incumbent users to navigate, so the auction take will not be 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, lower band, spectrum, in the case of the incentive auction "contiguous" after broadcasters were incentivized to move out. 

But the FCC's goal in the 28GHz auction is to get as much spectrum into the pipeline as possible for wireless broadband to help the U.S. win the race to next-gen 5G service.

There are three more spectrum auctions in the works for 2019, so the FCC's auction team will be busy.

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.