FCC's Latest 5G (3.45 GHz) Auction Closes, Grosses $21,888,007,794

5g artistic rendering
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The clock phase of the FCC's latest (3.45 GHZ) auction of midband spectrum for 5G has closed at $21,888,007,794 in total gross bids, almost $10 billion more than was necessary for the auction to close and making it one of the most lucrative spectrum auctions in FCC history.

A total of 441 licenses drew winning bids, with 19 licenses held.

That came after round 151, when there were no blocks of spectrum left to bid on where demand exceeded supply. Seven blocks of spectrum went unsold.

There will be a follow-on assignment phase where winning bidders can bid on specific frequencies.

The bids had slowed to a trickle--less than a million dollar increases--in recent rounds, signaling the end of the auction was almost certainly near given that the major markets had long ago reached their top bids with no activity for many rounds.

Ten days ago, the FCC tried to goose the process by increasing the number of rounds from five to seven and decreasing the time per round from a half hour to 20 minutes.

The FCC was auctioning 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3.45 GHz band that the Department of Defense said it was willing to give up/share so long as its operations--radar for example--are protected from interference. Winners can use the spectrum for either fixed or mobile service.

FCC acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel billed the auction rules as representing "the most aggressive build-out obligations of any spectrum auctioned for 5G to date" and ones that will allow for higher-power use of the 3.45 GHz band without interfering with the adjacent CBRS band.

Congress mandated that the spectrum had to be auctioned by the end of the year.

The auction had long ago met its reserve price of $14.775 billion, which is 110% of the cost of relocating incumbents, which Congress also mandated. The gross total will be whittled down a bit by tribal and small business bidding credits

The 4,060 flexible-use 15-year renewable licenses comprise 10 spectrum blocks in each partial economic area (PEA), some with sharing requirements.

The auction began Oct. 5 with 33 bidders, including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile. No word yet on who won what. Cable broadband operators had argued that the way the auction was structured--specifically the license sizes--would discourage them from bidding. But the auction is still the third-highest-grossing FCC auction in history behind the C-Band and AWS-3 auctions.

The successful bidders likely won't be commenting on their spectrum gains because they are in a post-auction quiet period.

In the next few days, the FCC will announce details about the assignment phase, including when the auction will begin.

“The results of Auction 110 demonstrate once again the critical importance of mid-band spectrum to satisfy the growing needs of the American public for 5G wireless broadband," said Ari Meltzer, partner in the telecom, media and tech practice of D.C. communications law firm Wiley. "The 3.45 GHz auction is now the third highest grossing FCC auction behind only the C-band and AWS-3. As the industry continues to roll out new and innovative services built on 5G networks, the demand for 5G spectrum is only going to increase.”

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.