T-Mobile Spends Nearly $8 Billion as Top Bidder in FCC 600 MHz Auction

NEWS ANALYSIS: T-Mobile secured about 45 percent of the available 600 MHz spectrum with a bid of nearly $8 billion in the Federal Communications Commission auction.

wireless spectrum auction

T-Mobile was the dominant winner in the 600 MHz spectrum auction that ended on March 30, 2017. The Federal Communications Commission announced the results of the auction on April 13.

T-Mobile’s bids of nearly $8 Billion secured about 45 percent of the available spectrum for the third-largest carrier while U.S. Dish Networks bought just over $6 Billion and Comcast bought $1.7 Billion worth of newly available wireless spectrum.

Comcast has recently announced a new mobile phone service that will use the company’s own WiFi hotspots and the Verizon wireless network. This additional spectrum should provide some flexibility for Comcast. Dish Networks has been buying and holding spectrum for years, but has yet to put it to use.

The additional spectrum enables T-Mobile's wireless service to completely cover the U.S. and Puerto Rico, something the company has not been able to do until now. In addition, the 600 MHz frequencies provide longer range coverage and superior building penetration characteristics compared to frequencies above 1 GHz, which is where T-Mobile’s service frequencies were concentrated.

Once T-Mobile start using frequencies it won in this spectrum auction, its coverage in the U.S. at frequencies below 1 GHz will nearly equal Verizon’s. A company spokesperson has said that T-Mobile will begin building out its network later in 2017. T-Mobile’s 600 MHz coverage map shows that by the end of 2017 the company will be able to reach 100 percent of the United States.

The spectrum that was being auctioned came from television station broadcast frequencies. Those stations are giving up the frequencies that they now use and will either relocate to new frequencies higher in the UHF band or they will go off the air completely. A few television stations have announced channel-sharing plans.

Some of the major sellers of television spectrum include Fox networks and NBC Universal. NBC Universal is owned by Comcast, which bought some of the available spectrum. While the auction is over, the actual transition of those television channels into wireless frequencies will take three years to complete.

Another limiting factor of a move into the 600 MHz spectrum is that there are currently no devices that can operate in those frequencies. While Qualcomm has announced 600 MHz chipsets, it’s not clear that those will make their way into a significant number of phones during 2017.

Still, the nation-wide swath of prized low-band spectrum is critical to T-Mobile, which has struggled to improve its coverage of rural areas, and to improve its signal quality in urban areas. Because signals at these frequencies can cover longer distances more effectively, this will help the carrier reach customers it’s had trouble reaching in the past.

“T-Mobile now has the largest swath of unused low-band spectrum in the country. That is a BFD for our customers!” said T-Mobile CEO John Legere in a prepared statement.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...