As the ongoing millimeter wave auction moves closer to conclusion, the Federal Communications Commission is bumping up the number of daily bidding rounds from five to seven, and shortening them from 30 minutes to 20 minutes.
The additional rounds of bidding start today. This is the latest in a number of nudges from the FCC to spur the auction across the finish line, including raising the automatic increase in each clock round from 10% to 15% and requiring bidders to use 100% of their bid units in each round, instead of 95%.
While bidding still continues, there appear to be few licenses still at issue. The auction total is barely budging from around $7.5 billion, moving up only slightly over the past week to $7.56 billion as of the close of round 97.
Auction 103 is using a clock format for its first phase, in which bidders compete for the license type and location they desire, with prices automatically increasing each round, until bidders’ demand for licenses at a certain price matches the supply. There are 832 total spectrum products (the MN and P licenses in each of the 416 geographic Partial Economic Areas that make up the U.S.) available in the auction, and at this point in the bidding, 823 have demand that meets supply, eight have demand greater than supply and only one had demand less than supply.
Once all the licenses have supply that meets demand, the clock phase with end and an assignment phase for specific spectrum blocks will follow. The FCC has not yet posted its bidding schedule for tomorrow, and the low number of licenses which are being bid upon, combined with the increase in rounds, could mean that the clock phase ends as soon as today.
More than 14,100 licenses are up for grabs across three mmWave bands in Auction 103: the upper 37 GHz band (37.6-38.6 GHz), the 39 GHz band (38.6-40 GHz) and the 47 GHz band (47.2-48.2 GHz). The licenses are based on a Partial Economic Area geographic basis which divides the country into 416 sections.
There is more spectrum available at 39 GHz than in the other two bands, with 14 blocks of 100 megahertz available, or 5,824 individual licenses. The 47 GHz and upper 37 GHz bands each have 4,160 licenses available, or 10 blocks of 100 megahertz in each PEA. The FCC has divided the spectrum into two categories of licenses: 24 100-MHz licenses in the 37 and 39 GHz frequency blocks, the MN or M/N licenses, and ten 100-MHz licenses in the 47 GHz frequency block, the P licenses.
The FCC has authorized either fixed or mobile use in the bands, and the commission has emphasized the sheer amount of spectrum available: at 3,400 megahertz, Auction 103 puts up the largest amount of spectrum ever offered in an auction.
However, the large amount of spectrum combined with the fact that this is the third of three FCC millimeter wave auctions in the past year means that prices are relatively cheap, as spectrum goes. Still, Auction 103 has already far outstripped the other two millimeter wave auctions in total bids raised. Auction 101 raised only about $702.6 million, because most of the spectrum in the band was already licensed and held by carriers such as Verizon (which beat out AT&T in a bidding war for Straight Path that was driven by its high-band spectrum holdings) and AT&T (which acquired Fibertower and its mmWave spectrum holdings). Last year’s Auction 102, meanwhile, raised about $2 billion.
Comparatively, the 2017 600 MHz incentive auction raised nearly $19.8 billion, and $19.4 billion was generated in the 700 MHz auction held in 2008; both of those were dwarfed by the more than $44 billion in gross proceeds from the AWS-3 auction that ended in early 2015.