The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today announced the application status for its Auction 110, whereby 100 MHz of national average spectrum depth is being auctioned between the 3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz frequencies. Auction 110 is scheduled to begin on October 5, 2021, with the FCC setting a reserve price of $14.8bn for the 3.45 GHz spectrum band.
Auction 110 – 3.45 GHz Spectrum – Details
The FCC’s auction will offer 100 MHz of spectrum depth, allocated into 10 MHz blocks, with licenses available by geographic partial economic areas (PEAs). Additionally, no individual wireless carrier can acquire more than 40 MHz of spectrum depth, out of the total of 100 MHz.
Importantly, the 3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz frequencies of Auction 110 are just below those of CBRS (Auction 105), which was between the 3.55 GHz to 3.65 GHz frequencies.
Overall, the auction’s $14.8bn reserve price could be problematic for wireless carriers which have recently stretched their balance sheets following the C-band auction earlier in 2021.
Complete and Incomplete Applications – Auction 110
Below we highlight notable Complete Applications, Incomplete Applications, and significant entities that chose not to register for the FCC’s Auction 110. In total, 42 entities registered for Auction 110, with 26 providing Complete Applications and 16 providing Incomplete Applications.
Importantly, applicants have until September 2, 2021 (i.e., when deposits are due) to make their applications complete and become registered for the auction. Therefore, incomplete applications below may become complete, prior to the deadline.
- Wireless Carrier: AT&T, T-Mobile, DISH Network (Weminuche L.L.C.), U.S. Cellular
- Private Equity: Grain Management (NewLevel III, L.P.), Charles Townsend (Whitewater Wireless II, L.P.)
- Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP): Resound Networks
AT&T, T-Mobile, and DISH Network’s status as having Complete Applications is important since these three bidders will likely comprise the majority of the 3.45 GHz auction spending. Additionally, U.S. Cellular has been a consistent buyer in prior spectrum auctions – spending $1.3bn in the C-band auction. Finally, Grain Management was also an aggressive buyer in the C-band auction, spending a similar $1.3bn.
- Wireless Carrier: Verizon (Cellco Partnership)
- Wireline: Frontier Communications
Verizon may still complete their application for Auction 110 prior to the deadline. At the same time, recall that Verizon has been the top spender in the C-band ($45.5bn) and CBRS ($1.9bn) auctions. Therefore, Verizon may spend less in the FCC’s 3.45 GHz auction and focus on deploying their current spectrum holdings.
- Cable: Charter Communications, Comcast, Altice USA, Cox Communications, Cable One
- Wireline: Windstream, Lumen Technologies
Comcast, which owns Xfinity Mobile, and Charter Communications, which owns Spectrum Mobile, did not register separately or as a joint venture entity (which they had previously done through C&C Wireless).
Rationale for the cable companies not participating in Auction 110 could be multifaceted. For example, it could be due to Auction 110’s high reserve price of $14.8bn. Alternatively, it could be cable’s preference for geographic units to be by county (i.e., CBRS) instead of partial economic area (PEA), which is the format in Auction 110.
U.S. Tower Companies – Impact from Auction 110
Given that the 3.45 GHz to 3.55 GHz frequencies are mid-band 5G spectrum, deployments will largely occur through tower infrastructure. Specifically, wireless carriers will deploy this 3.45 GHz spectrum by placing network equipment including basebands, radios, and antennas onto towers.
Additionally, because this 3.45 GHz spectrum is adjacent to the CBRS and C-band frequencies, deployments should be more expeditious.
Overall, this new spectrum deployment will drive more business for the largest U.S. independent tower companies. Specifically, these companies include American Tower, Crown Castle, SBA Communications, and Vertical Bridge. Deployments by AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon (potentially) will generate more tower amendment revenue. While DISH Network will drive new lease activity, given its greenfield network build.
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