After 19 rounds, the Federal Communications Commission’s 3.45 GHz midband spectrum auction has raised a little more than $3 billion in bids from the field of 33 qualified bidders.
The auction must meet a reserve price of $14.7 billion. Four rounds of bidding will be held today, and the auction will step up to five rounds of daily bidding starting tomorrow.
Sasha Javid, COO at Bitpath and former chief data officer and legal advisor on the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force, is once again providing auction tracking that can be found here. According to those figures, the license areas with the highest demand after the 19th round of bidding are New York, New York; Los Angeles, California; Phoenix, Arizona; Orlando, Florida and Houston, Texas.
Demand levels have been holding fairly steady for a number of rounds, with relatively slow but consistent growth in bids. For comparison, the blockbuster C-Band auction, which ultimately raised more than $80 billion in bids, raised $1.9 billion in bidding on its first day and by round 17, was approaching $8 billion in bids. The CBRS Priority Access License (PAL) auction, held in the summer of 2020, concluded after 76 rounds, and raised more than $4.58 billion in bids. (For a more complete recap of recent midband spectrum auctions in the U.S., read this.)
The 3.45 GHz auction, also known as Auction 110, offers up 100 megahertz of prized midband spectrum, divided into ten 10-megahertz blocks, licensed by geographic areas known as Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), for a total of 4,060 flexible-use licenses across the contiguous United States. Of the available license types or “products,” 155 had demand greater than the available supply, 134 had a greater supply of available licenses than the existing demand, and 192 had demand equal to supply, according to the FCC’s auction round information. The auction’s clock round will continue, with prices increasing every round, until demand is equal to or less than the available license types.
There are some caveats that come along with the use of the 3.45 GHz band. The FCC has placed limitations on how much of it that any single bidder can accumulate: Bidders can’t hold more than four out of the 10 available licenses in a given PEA, or 40 megahertz of spectrum. In addition, there are nearly three dozen areas around the country where licenses winners will have to coordinate their use of the band with existing incumbent military systems; those areas include military training facilities, Navy home ports, shipyards and military test sites across the Western U.S., the Midwest and up the East Coast. The Department of Defense has been using the 3.45 GHz band for high- and low-powered radar systems, including fixed, mobile, shipborne and airborne systems, as well as testing and training related to those systems. For a deeper dive on the coordination locations, check out Javid’s auction tracking page.
There are 33 qualified bidders participating in the 3.45 GHz auction. All three national cellular network operators are participating, as well as Dish Network (reportedly bidding under the name Weminuche LLC), US Cellular and a number of small and regional network operators. Telecom-focused private equity company Grain Management, which bid $1.277 billion for 10 C-Band licenses and was the fifth-highest bidder overall, is participating as NewLevel III.
The FCC has noted that the 3.45 GHz band, plus the neighboring 3.5 GHz CBRS band and the 3.7 GHz C Band spectrum, represent 530 megahertz of contiguous midband spectrum for 5G. Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has said that the build-out requirements for 3.45 GHz are the “most aggressive build-out obligations of any spectrum auctioned for 5G to date. … We insist on getting infrastructure built twice as fast as what the agency has required in other recent 5G bands.”
Those build-out benchmarks include providing service to at least 45% of the population in areas where bidders win licenses within four years, and at least 80% of the population within eight years for mobile or point-to-multipoint services. If the licenses are used for IoT services, winners have to build out to 35% of the geographic area won within four years and 65% of the geographic area within eight years.
Looking for more insights on midband spectrum? Download RCR Wireless News’ recent editorial report, Minding the Midband, and check out the accompanying webinar featuring experts from Aurora Insight, Analog Devices and LitePoint.