FCC's Wireless Spectrum Auction at $34B and Growing

The FCC's wireless spectrum auction opened Nov. 13 and will collect bids until the FCC determines that the bidding has stopped.

wireless spectrum auction

More than $34 billion in bids have so far been received by the FCC in the wireless spectrum auction that began on Nov. 13, as bidders around the nation compete to purchase a larger chunk of the finite wireless spectrum that is used to support wireless calls, data transmissions and other communications.

The Federal Communications Commission's auction Website tally lists the latest bid total at $34.08 billion in offers as of Nov. 24. So far, 505 bids have been received, according to the agency.

The auction, called Auction 97 and which so far is more than three times the $10.5 billion in reserve prices that were listed for the available lots, is being conducted as part of the FCC's AWS-3 wireless spectrum auction. The AWS-3 auction allows portions of the wireless spectrum that are no longer in use to be reallocated to new licensees so that the bandwidth can be used to expand wireless services, according to the FCC.

The auction will remain open until the agency has determined that the bidding has stopped, which can be weeks or months. The FCC will then examine the bids to ensure they are from qualified bidders, meet a series of technical and regulatory requirements, and conform to other stipulations, according to the agency.

Some of the better-known applicants in the list of proposed bidders include three of the four largest U.S. wireless carriers—Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile—as well as Dish Network.

Applicants had to fill out a short form prior to the auction to participate, which helps to establish that they meet the requirements for bidding on the spectrum that is up for grabs.

The bids are being taken anonymously through a live dynamic online portal, according to the FCC. When the FCC deems the auction closed, it will provisionally name the winners and then collect payments for the winning bids. Licensing reviews and other reviews will follow before the licenses for the spectrum are eventually issued, according to the FCC.

AWS-3 is an abbreviation for Advanced Wireless Services-3. The AWS-3 auction centers on three specific portions of the wireless spectrum, according to the FCC: 1,695 to 1,710MHz, 1,755 to 1,780MHz, and 2,155 to 2,180MHz bands.

Bidders are competing for 1,614 spectrum licenses available in the auction, including 734 Cellular Market Area (CMA) licenses, according to the FCC. The AWS-3 frequencies will be licensed in 5 and 10MHz blocks, with each license having a total bandwidth of 5, 10 or 20MHz.

By allowing new users to take over the available segments of wireless spectrum, the FCC is hoping to expand the spectrum available to consumers, business users and others who are continuing to demand more wireless performance and services.

The AWS-3 auction has been in the works by the FCC for some time. In April, the FCC released a 139-page "Report and Order," which set the rules for the event and detailed how it would repurpose federal spectrum in the AWS-3 band for commercial use, according to an earlier eWEEK report. The auction represents the "largest amount of spectrum suitable for mobile broadband use that the commission has made available for auction since the 700MHz band was auctioned in 2008," the FCC said in a statement at the time.

The previous record for such an auction was $18.9 billion back in 2008, according a report by The New York Times. This is the first spectrum auction held by the agency in six years.

The bids have been coming in quickly so far, reported financial Website Seeking Alpha, increasing by $9 billion to $33 billion on Nov. 21, which was up from $24 billion on Nov. 19.

The big questions still to be answered are how high the bids will continue to go and when the bidding will end.