The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today released the auction results and bidder identities for C-band Auction 107 which generated $81.1bn in net license prices. Overall, the C-band winners were a highly concentrated group, with the top five bidders comprising $80.8bn (99.6%) of the $81.1bn total net spend. Specifically, the top five bidders in the C-band auction were Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Grain Management. Indeed, spending from the top five bidders was as follows:
- Verizon: $45.5bn of spending, equating to 56.0% of the total C-band auction results
- AT&T: $23.4bn of spending, equating to 28.9% of the total C-band auction results
- T-Mobile: $9.3bn of spending, equating to 11.5% of the total C-band auction results
- U.S. Cellular: $1.3bn of spending, equating to 1.6% of the total C-band auction results
- Grain Management: $1.3bn of spending, equating to 1.6% of the total C-band auction results
C-band 5G Spectrum Auction Results – Spend Breakdown
Key Takeaways from the C-band Auction Results
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile – C-band Auction Results
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile’s significant participation in C-band Auction 107 comes as no surprise. Indeed, each company has recently raised additional debt to fund the acquisition of spectrum.
Firstly, Verizon issued ~$20bn of debt in Q4 2020 and Q1 2021, which was supplemented today with a further $25bn delayed draw Term Loan from J.P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley. Secondly, AT&T has raised $15bn of new debt to-date, during Q1 2021. Thirdly, T-Mobile has raised $10.5bn of debt during Q4 2020 and Q1 2021. All or the majority of these debt capital raises will fund the acquisition of C-band spectrum.
Minimal and Non-Participants – C-band Auction Results
DISH Network spent $2.5m, only a tiny amount, effectively not participating in C-band Auction 107. Indeed, DISH Network already has over 90 MHz of mid-band spectrum. Moreover, the company is currently not using its existing spectrum, because it has not yet built-out its 5G network. Therefore, DISH Network is likely preserving capital for its 5G network build-out, for which it has been very active lately, signing lease agreements for towers.
Overall, the cable companies opted to spend nothing in C-band Auction 107. Specifically, Comcast, which owns Xfinity Mobile and Charter Communications, which owns Spectrum Mobile did register as one joint venture entity, C&C Wireless. However, the companies instead appear to be deploying capital towards funding further fixed broadband build-outs and stock buybacks.
U.S. Cellular – C-band Auction Results
U.S. Cellular’s $1.3bn of spending rises to $1.46bn “inclusive of associated costs”, which the company disclosed in its Form 10-K annual report. Indeed, this refers to the incumbent satellite operators of the spectrum receiving financial compensation for an accelerated clearing process of C-band.
Overall, U.S. Cellular’s total C-band spending was significantly higher than anticipated. It was clear that U.S. Cellular would participate in the C-band auction, but the magnitude was understood to be less. Notably, in December 2020, U.S. Cellular raised $500m of debt for C-band spectrum purchases.
Grain Management – C-band Auction Results
Grain Management, a Washington, D.C.- headquartered private equity firm, focused on digital infrastructure investments was the most surprising of the top five winners in C-band Auction 107. However, the company does note that spectrum is one the five strategic sub-verticals of digital infrastructure that it invests across.
Overall, Grain Management is an active investor in digital infrastructure, having purchased fiber companies Summit Broadband and Ritter Communications. Furthermore, the company has also previously sold a portfolio of 400 towers in the U.S. to American Tower. For further details on these digital infrastructure transactions by Grain Management, check out our comprehensive list of towers and fiber precedent M&A transactions here.