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10 May 2022

Licences in 3.45 GHz awarded to 23 US companies

By Wireless Watch Staff

 Last week, the FCC granted 4,041 licences to winners in the 3.45 GHz auction, which ended at the start of this year, even as the US regulator prepares to release further airwaves in 2022. 

 

The auction was largely overshadowed by the huge C-band sale in 2021, and was seen a an incremental sale, but in fact its gross proceeds, at $22.5bn, made it the third largest in US history.  

 

Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s chair, said the 3.45 GHz auction, or Auction 110, has achieved its goal of improving service provider diversity and boosting competition. “The results speak for themselves,” she said. “The licences we are granting today represent a wider variety of providers, including small businesses and rural carriers, who will help deliver on the promise of 5G to every corner of the country.”  

 

The FCC said 13 of the 23 successful companies were small businesses or rural providers, and that there were at least four winning bidders in over one-third of the top 100 markets. In the C-band auction, there were more than four winners in only 10% of the top 100 markets. 

 

That said, the biggest winner in Auction 110 was hardly an alternative player – AT&T acquired 1,624 licences, followed by Dish with 1,232. AT&T plans to light up C-band and 3.45 GHz spectrum at the same time and to expand midband coverage to 200m POPs by the end of next year. 

 

Another big winner was UScellular, which acquired 380 licences, while T-Mobile bought 199. Verizon did not participate. 

 

There are some question marks over 3.45-3.55 GHz, notably whether smartphones and other devices will support it. It is likely that component suppliers would only need to make fairly minor adjustments to enable a C-band (3.7-4.2 GHz) device to support the lower stretch, since both fall within 3GPP’s n77 technical standard. 

 

The 3.45 GHz band was licensed in 10 blocks of 10 MHz each in each partial economic area (PEA), with a total of 4,060 licences on offer.  AT&T and Dish bought 2,856 licences between them but nobody else acquired more than 200. There was a 40 MHz cap on the amount any one company could acquire from the total of 100 MHz. 

 

The FCC is now preparing for the next auction, of white spaces within the 2.5 GHz band, which will start on July 29. TMO, as the biggest owner of 2.5 GHz spectrum, is likely to be the leading purchaser. 

 

Although the USA has conducted a steady stream of 5G-focused auctions, the MNOs’ 

trade association, CTIA, believes far more is needed. In March, the CTIA’s Scott Bergmann testified to that effect before the House Energy Sub-committee on Communications and Technology. The session was entitled ‘5G and beyond: exploring the next wireless frontier’. 

 

He said: “For 5G, it’s all about midband”, arguing that many major economies have opened up, on average, 650 MHz of midband spectrum for 5G operators, but the USA has only released 270 MHz – although that will rise to 450 MHz one the whole of the C-band spectrum that was sold in 2021 is freed up, as satellite incumbents are relocated.  

 

But that will still leave many countries with 1.5 times the amount of midband 5G spectrum as the USA has (it appeared that his calculations did not include TMO’s 2.5 GHz assets, even though this TDD band has been accepted by 3GPP as an official 5G band).  

 

“To keep up pace with demand for new fixed and mobile 5G use cases and services, the US needs to free up additional spectrum, especially licensed midband spectrum,” Bergmann said. The CTIA has identified six midrange spectrum bands that it wants released for 5G usage: 

 

  • 3.1-3.45 GHz 
  • 7.125-8.4 GHz 
  • The upper 4 GHz band 
  • 1.3-1.35 GHz 
  • 1.124-1.164 GHz 
  • 1.78-1.83 GHz 

 

Bergmann also argued for the release of more millimeter wave spectrum, particularly in the 26 GHz, 42 GHz and 50 GHz bands.