With just a few weeks to go before the auction of Priority Access Licenses for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band at 3.5 GHz, 271 bidders are set to compete for the more than 22,000 licenses across the U.S.
The FCC’s list of qualified bidders has more than doubled since its first list of completed applications was released in early June. At that point, the FCC had received 348 applications: 106 were deemed complete, and 242 applications were incomplete but could be corrected.
The number of bidders adds to the superlatives of this particular auction: it’s the first major auction of midband spectrum for the U.S. which could be used for 5G services, offering the most licenses ever in an FCC auction. Comparatively, the four recent millimeter wave auctions which the FCC has held each had 40 or fewer qualified bidders.
The Priority Access License auction will begin July 23, after being pushed back about a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously qualified bidders included AT&T, US Cellular, Cincinnati Bell, smaller network operators such as Carolina West Wireless and dozens of other small telecom companies and rural electric cooperatives. Cox Communications, cable provider Mediacom and Shenandoah Cable Television are set to bid. So are Windstream and Frontier Communications, which are both in bankruptcy proceedings (Windstream expects to emerge from bankruptcy next month). Nontraditional bidders include oil and gas company Chevron USA, Texas A&M University – College Station and the University of Virginia Foundation, Duke University and Health System, energy company Exelon and hospitality company Starwood Holdings. There are also a number of electric companies: Tampa Electric Company, Southern California Edison, Alabama Power Company and others, including the city of Donalsonville, Georgia, which has a population of about 2,650 and also operates a city-owned utility. Seventy-five of the qualified bidders will receive rural service provider bidding credits.
Bidders who have moved from having incomplete applications to full qualification include Verizon, T-Mobile US, Dish (bidding under the name Wetterhorn Wireless), CenturyLink (bidding as Actel), Charter Communications (bidding as Spectrum Wireless Holdings), Cable One/Sparklight, and DoCoMo Pacific, which is a subsidiary of Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo that operates in the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands; Deere & Company; the Virginia Tech Foundation
Entities which filed initial applications but did not end up among the qualified bidders include fiber company Corning, the Dallas Independent School District and the University of Kentucky, among others.
Companies often bid under names other than their own; Light Reading has posted a list from Brian Goemmer of AllNet Insights & Analytics that untangles the not-so-obvious ownership relationships of bidding entities.
The CBRS Priority Access License auction, known as Auction 105, will make available 22,631 PALs in the CBRS at 3.5 GHz. That figure breaks down to up to seven PALs per county-based license area across the United States. The auction “will offer the greatest number of spectrum licenses ever made available for bidding in a single auction,” the FCC has said, and it is intended to bolster 5G deployments as well as the internet of things and “other advanced spectrum-based services.”
Each PAL will consist of a 10 megahertz unpaired channel at 3.55-3.65 GHz. Entities can bid on up to four PALs per license area and aggregate those.