Verizon Tops Bidders in FCC Auction for 5G Airwaves

Thousands of licenses for optimal 5G spectrum were awarded to cable and cellular companies by the FCC. Here’s what you need to know.

What Happened:

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wrapped up its latest and largest round of bids for cellular spectrum licenses on August 25th. 

Verizon led the pack with nearly $1.9 billion in winning bids for licenses for midband 3.5 GHz airwaves, followed by dish provider Wetterhorn Wireless with just shy of $913 million in bids. 

Other major recipients include:

  • Spectrum Wireless: $464 million
  • XF Wireless: $458 million
  • Cox Communications: $212.8 million

Until recently, these airwaves were largely used by satellite providers. The FCC decision to auction midband airwave licenses ultimately beat out proposals from major satellite providers to make private sales to wireless and mobile phone carriers. 

Why it Matters:

5G Deployment

5G stands to rapidly improve internet download speeds, connect more devices simultaneously, and support advanced technology like self-driving cars and AI. 

Midband airwaves strike an ideal balance of speed and service area for 5G coverage. Specifically, they can handle more data than lower-frequency spectrum and travel farther than high-frequency airwaves. 

Although Verizon is the largest mobile provider in the U.S., this bid was an effort to catch up with their closest competitor, T-Mobile. America’s second largest provider recently announced that midband 5G is live for millions of Americans across nearly 90 cities and towns. 

The Race for 5G Airwaves Continues

The FCC plans to auction 280 MHz of spectrum while reserving 200 MHz for satellite companies delivering TV programming. The auction that concluded August 25th allocated 70 MHz of Priority Access Licenses, meaning there is still more up for grabs. 

Another auction will free up even more lucrative C-Band spectrum starting December 8th. After no bid from AT&T and just $6 million from T-Mobile, it is expected they will make a stronger push for the December auction. 

The $4.6 billion in proceeds from this round of bids, as well as past and auctions, go to the U.S. Treasury.