The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the auction results and winning bidder identities for its Auction 110, through which 100 MHz of national average spectrum depth was auctioned between the 3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz frequencies, for a total of $22.5bn in gross bids ($22.4bn in net bids). Specifically, 23 bidders, including AT&T, DISH Network, T-Mobile, and Columbia Capital, won a total of 4,041 licenses. In turn, the auction clearing price of $22.5bn equates to ~$0.74 per MHz-PoP in gross proceeds across 307 million points-of-presence (PoPs).
Overall, the 3.45 GHz auction winners were a highly concentrated group, with the top five bidders comprising $21.3bn (94.9%) of the $22.4bn total net spend. Particularly, the top five bidders in the 3.45 GHz auction were AT&T, DISH Network, T-Mobile, Columbia Capital, and U.S. Cellular. The spending from these top five bidders was as follows:
- AT&T: $9.1bn of net spending, equating to 40.5% of the total 3.45 GHz auction results
- DISH Network: $7.3bn of net spending, equating to 32.7% of the total 3.45 GHz auction results
- T-Mobile: $2.9bn of net spending, equating to 12.9% of the total 3.45 GHz auction results
- Columbia Capital: $1.4bn of net spending, equating to 6.2% of the total 3.45 GHz auction results
- U.S. Cellular: $580m of net spending, equating to 2.6% of the total 3.45 GHz auction results
3.45 GHz Spectrum Auction Results – Top 10 Winning Bidders
Below are further details on the top 10 winning bidders in the 3.45 GHz spectrum auction, which collectively comprised 99.8% of net spend:
|#||Company||Bidder Entity||Net Spend|
|1||AT&T||AT&T Auction Holdings, LLC||$9.1bn|
|2||DISH Network||Weminuche L.L.C.||$7.3bn|
|3||T-Mobile||T-Mobile License LLC||$2.9bn|
|4||Columbia Capital||Three Forty-Five Spectrum, LLC||$1.4bn|
|5||U.S. Cellular||United States Cellular Corporation||$580m|
|6||Charles Townsend||Whitewater Wireless II, L.P.||$403m|
|7||Grain Management||NewLevel III, L.P.||$376m|
|8||Peppertree, Cloverlay||Cherry Wireless, LLC||$211m|
|9||Billy Mounger, II||N Squared Wireless, LLC||$77m|
|10||Apex Towers / Tom Attar||Skylake Wireless II, LLC||$39m|
The FCC auctioned 100 MHz of spectrum depth, allocated into 10 MHz blocks, with licenses awarded by geographic partial economic areas (PEAs). Additionally, no individual wireless carrier was permitted to acquire more than 40 MHz of spectrum depth, out of the total of 100 MHz.
Key Takeaways from the 3.45 GHz Auction Results
AT&T led all wireless carriers in the 3.45 GHz spectrum auction with $9.1bn of net spending, equivalent to 40.5% of total net bids. By acquiring 40 MHz of nationwide spectrum depth (i.e., the maximum amount allowed), AT&T was able to reduce its mid-band spectrum deficit to Verizon and T-Mobile.
DISH Network’s $7.3bn of spending for 31 MHz of nationwide spectrum depth aligns with company’s $5.25bn senior secured debt raise, in November 2021, through which it signaled that the notes would “finance the potential purchase of wireless spectrum licenses”.
Additionally, T-Mobile was able to bolster its leading mid-band spectrum holdings, particularly relative to Verizon, by acquiring 21 MHz of localized spectrum depth. At the same time, T-Mobile’s subdued $2.9bn of spending ensures that its focus will continue to be on deploying its 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum.
Finally, Verizon did not acquire any spectrum in the 3.45 GHz auction. Ultimately, Verizon did not see a significant need to spend in this auction, following its leading position in the C-band auction with $45.5bn of spending. Specifically, in the prior C-band auction, Verizon secured an average of 161 MHz of C-band spectrum depth nationwide.
Columbia Capital is a private equity firm operating in the communications, media, and technology sectors. Historically, the firm has made significant investments in spectrum, such as through the entities AB Spectrum, LLC (sold licenses to T-Mobile US) and LB Spectrum Holdings, LLC (acquired licenses from AT&T).
In July 2021, Columbia Capital disclosed that it was seeking to raise $1.75bn through the vehicle Columbia Spectrum Partners V.
Grain Management is a private equity firm focused on digital infrastructure investments including towers, fiber, small cells, satellites, and spectrum.
In addition to the firm’s flagship Grain Communications Opportunity Fund series, Grain Management has also raised dedicated spectrum investment vehicles, with the most recent vintage, Grain Spectrum Holdings IV, disclosed in December 2021.
Notably, Grain Spectrum Holdings III, the firm’s prior spectrum fund vintage, was established to participate in the C-band spectrum auction.
Peppertree Capital is a private equity firm which primarily invests in digital infrastructure, including the sub-sectors of towers, fiber, small cells, and distributed antenna systems (DAS). In November 2021, Peppertree Capital disclosed that it had raised $1.2bn+ through its Fund IX.