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FCC's 3.45-GHz 5G Auction Now Third-Largest in Aggregate Bids

5g artistic rendering
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commisssion‘s 3.45-GHz spectrum auction is now the agency‘s third highest-grossing spectrum auction of all time, with $19,876,808,838 in aggregate bids after round 58, pushing past the broadcast incentive auction‘s $19.768 billion gross proceeds total at closing back in 2017.

The 3.45 GHz auction has met its reserve price, so could close any time demand exceeds supply across all product in the auction, but it continues at a five-round-per-day pace.

The 3.45 GHz auction, which launched Oct. 5, has a ways to go before it would displace the top two-grossing auctions — $44.899 billion for the AWS-3 auction and the reigning champion, the C-band auction‘s $81.164 billion.

That is according to D.C. communications firm Wiley (as well as the FCC‘s own dashboard), which is keeping close tabs on the bidding.

The $1 billion-per-round increases in bids that characterized last week have leveled off considerably as the top markets reached their near-saturation point--both New York and L.A. are at about a quarter billion dollars apiece in license bids — and the heavier bidding shifted to smaller markets and dollar amounts.

Wiley pointed out that demand for the spectrum has been generally strong, though arguably less so than some previous auctions. Cable broadband operators and others had argued that the way the FCC set up the auction and the license sizes could discourage participation. There were no big cable broadband names among the bidders: the major players are AT&T, Verizon Communications and T-Mobile.

The auction includes a mix of licenses, ones that have to be coordinated with incumbent Department of Defense users — a little over 40%, according to Wiley —and ones that don‘t, with the latter generally drawing the higher bids.

DOD has agreed to share 100 MHz of the spectrum that is used for things like radar systems, so long as the new licensed users don't cause undue interference.

The FCC is auctioning 4,060 flexible-use licenses that it expects to be used for 5G, though they can be used for virtually any fixed or mobile broadband service. Licenses are renewable for terms of no more than 15 years. There is a 40 MHz limit on how much any one bidder can acquire in a single area.

The auction launched Oct. 5, under a congressional mandate to auction the spectrum by year's end.