C Band auction approaches $8 billion

After 17 rounds, the C Band auction has brought in more than $7.9 billion, as the field of 57 bidders continues to compete for the 280 megahertz of midband spectrum on offer.

The 3.7 GHz service auction has already significantly exceeded the amount raised by the sale of CBRS Priority Access Licenses, which totaled nearly $4.6 billion in bids and lasted for 76 rounds. Four rounds of bidding are being held daily, with three more on tap today.

The most hotly contested markets have shifted in recent rounds. While the Baltimore-Washington DC Partial Economic Area (PEA) continues to see high bidding demand, less expensive licenses in areas such as Kanab, UT; Espanola, Farmington and Gallup, NM; Winslow, AZ; and Rock Spring, WY saw the most interest in rounds 16 and 17. All of those licenses are going for less than $60,000 per sub-block, with some as low as $7,000 each.

The most expensive licenses, as is typical, are those in the densest metropolitan areas: New York City licenses have been bid up to nearly $70 million per sub-block, with Los Angeles, CA coming in at the second-highest license prices of $53.5 million each. Chicago, IL ($25.8 million) and San Francisco, CA ($24.9 million) and Baltimore-Washington D.C ($21.6 million) all have licenses going for at least $20 million apiece.

On a price per megahertz-POP basis, however, the licenses in less-populated PEAs are pricier. According to analysis by Sasha Javid, COO of BitPath and formerly lead of the Federal Communications Commission’s auction team, the most expensive PEAs on a price per megahertz-POP are Oklahoma City, OK; Brownsville, TX; Las Vegas, NV; Milwaukee, WI and Jacksonville, FL.

The C Band spectrum will provide an injection of highly desired midband spectrum for 5G deployment in the U.S., with greater available capacity than other sub-6 GHz airwaves and better propagation characteristics than millimeter wave.

The 3.7 GHz service is divided into 5,684 licenses, or 14 sub-blocks in each of 406 available Partial Economic Areas across the United States. The A block consists of 100 megahertz (five 20-megahertz sub-blocks) from 3.7-3.8 GHz; that spectrum will be the first to be cleared, expected by December 2021. The B block consists of 100 megahertz (five 20-megahertz sub-blocks) from 3.8-3.9 GHz) and the C block makes up the final 80 megahertz with four 20-megahertz sub-blocks; that spectrum is slated to be cleared by December 2023. There is a 20-megahertz guard band at 3.98-4.0 GHz; satellite operators will move their operations into the top 200 megahertz of the band from 4.0-4.2 GHz.

MITRE, a non-profit organization not-for-profit organization that manages several federally funded research and development centers, has a spectrum valuation tool that has estimated that the C Band auction will raise between $25-$30 billion — more than auctions such as the $20 billion 600 MHz broadcast auction, but not as much as the blockbuster AWS-3 auction, which raised nearly $45 billion. 

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