The agency announced Friday that the top winners in the Federal Communications Commission’s newest auction of airwaves long earmarked for military use but likely to be utilized for 5G cellular service are AT&T and satellite TV provider Dish Network.
AT&T paid $9.1 billion, and Dish paid $7.3 billion for wireless spectrum licenses in the 2.5GHz to 3.5GHz band on the radio spectrum. T-Mobile was the auction’s third-highest bidder, spending $2.9 billion. Verizon Communications did not attend the auction.
The auctioned mid-band spectrum is thought to be critical for mobile operators’ rollout of 5G, the next generation of wireless service that promises to bring substantially faster cellular service and a more responsive network. In addition, its ability to link more gadgets and provide real-time feedback is projected to bring new developments such as self-driving cars and improved augmented reality experiences, ushering in a sea of change in how we live and work.
“Today’s 3.45 GHz auction results show that the FCC’s decision to focus on mid-band spectrum for 5G was the right one,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
Due to its potential to span a several-mile radius with 5G despite requiring more cell sites than lower-tiered spectrum bands, the mid-band spectrum delivers better-balanced coverage and capacity.
The federal military has solely employed this portion of the spectrum for naval radar systems, missile control, and air traffic control. However, the Trump administration and the Department of Defense determined in 2020 that it might be shared with commercial 5G service providers.
Under the Biden administration, the auction began in October 2021. According to the FCC, the auction brought in more than $22.5 billion. A portion of the proceeds was required by Congress to be utilized to purchase new equipment. This will allow existing military equipment to cohabit alongside cell towers and other wireless carrier equipment when 5G service is deployed. The remainder of the sale proceeds will go to the US Treasury.
Spectrum reigns supreme.
As demand for mobile services grows, wireless operators have been pressing to open up more untapped or under-tapped airwaves. The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to repurpose spectrum from other industries, such as satellite and television broadcasting, to make room for new mobile phone technology. The agency has also sought outside of business companies for spectrum, collaborating with government departments such as the Defense Department to increase spectrum access for commercial providers.
As a result, the cellular sector has spent more than $100 billion in recent years to acquire these airwave licenses. In the future, the FCC intends to hold even more auctions.
However, when the spectrum is repurposed, there have been disagreements about interference. For example, the Federal Aviation Administration expressed concerns late last year that the usage of the C-band spectrum, which was auctioned off in 2020, may interfere with aircraft cockpit safety systems. The consequence was a standoff between the FAA, the aviation sector, and telecom companies AT&T and Verizon, which had expected to start deploying 5G service using the spectrum they had purchased.
AT&T and Verizon agreed earlier this month to delay the launch of their 5G services using C-band airwaves until January 19.