FCC’s Landmark 600 MHz Auction Ends; No-Regrets Prices

The FCC’s 600 MHz auction ended March 28, 2017 with details released shortly thereafter… Licenses were sold at a “no-regrets” price of US$0.92 per MHz-pop – more than 60% “off” compared to AWS-3 and 35% less than 700 MHz licenses.

And the winners were… some of the usual suspects, but bucking US auction history, AT&T was a very minor player (<5% of the auction) and Verizon did not bid. The top three markets: NYC, LA and Chicago were left completely to others – T-Mobile the only incumbent operator winning licenses in those markets, joined by DISH, Comcast and Channel 51 (Columbia Capital).

T-Mobile, the big winner, accounted for 40% of the total auction proceeds – spending 4.5x its AWS3 bids, followed by DISH at 31%.

Changing of the guard? New band, new ecosystem, new entrant(s). And hats-off to the 45 smaller players, 90% of the winning bidders, the largest being US Cellular and Bluewater, who toughed it out to win licenses after a successful pre-auction regulatory fight to have licenses awarded on the smaller PEA geographic areas.

The 600 MHz auction is also significant in that it resulted in the sale of 70 MHz of “paired” spectrum for mobile, the largest sale of this type since the AWS-1 auction, which was held eons ago, pre-iPhone in 2006.

As a precursor of, and potential geographic “underlay”, for 5G and IoT, 600 MHz is bound to play an important role in industry development and future ecosystems.

Next in the FCC’s pipeline could be the AWS-3 re-auction as well as a new process for licenses in 3.5 GHz, a higher frequency band also targeted for 5G. Recent European actions have firmly put 3.5 GHz on the 5G and mobile “map”, making it a perfect complement to 600 MHz.

LYA has supported clients in North America and Europe in auctions and related matters covering the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 3500 MHz and other bands. LYA provides expert advice on auction formats and processes, regulatory support, business case assessment, and bidder preparation through use of innovative software tools, robotic bidders, advanced simulation capabilities and a full suite of bid room support services.