A Very Important Spectrum Auction Is on Tap for November

Carl Weinschenk
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A vital spectrum contest referred to as Auction 97 (or AWS-3) is set to kick off on November 13. As far as these things go, it is expected to be quite a show.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is slated on that day to begin taking bids for 1,614 licenses across 65MHz of spectrum. Though this is important, its complexity makes it difficult for the uninitiated to understand. WirelessWeek’s Ben Munson describes where the spectrum is and the complicated way in which it is being offered.

Munson begins by saying 80 potential bidders are onboard for the auction. That’s a high number. He also explains why the spectrum is so highly sought after:

Phil Marshall, chief research officer at Tolaga Research, sees the spectrum as valuable to any bidder but in particular to carriers with ongoing AWS deployments. The spectrum up for grabs in November is close enough in compatibility so carriers currently running AWS networks won’t have to worry about dual-band technology even though some network infrastructure replacement will be required to bring AWS-3 to market.

CNET’s Roger Cheng offers an excellent overview of the auction, which features spectrum that is mainly being released by the U.S. Department of Defense. He says that the FCC has a reserve price of $10.5 billion. That means that if the bids don’t exceed that amount, the FCC can cancel the auction. It’s reasonable to assume, though, that the auction will beat that figure by a good bit.

The usual suspects, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon Wireless, are expected to be big players in the auction. Cheng and others suspect that Dish Network will make a strong move and note that Sprint, because it holds a good deal of spectrum already, is not in the auction.

Another reason that the auction is expected to be active has nothing to do with the spectrum itself. In late August, the FCC suspended certain rules under which bidders operate. This reduced the scenarios that would force bidders to increase their upfront payment and made it more likely that smaller carriers would participate.

Spectrum auctions are for experts. However, what they produce, the ability of carriers and application developers to launch services, is the life blood of the wireless market. Thus, it clearly is everyone’s concern. The fruits of the auction that will kick off in a few weeks won’t be enjoyed for a long time. But the fact that there is new and prime spectrum in the pipeline is a positive development.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

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