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Big 3 carriers, Dish apply for 3.45 GHz auction

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday released a roster of applicants for participation in the next U.S. mid-band spectrum auction.

Auction 110 is set to start October 5, offering up to 4,060 flexible-use licenses with 100-megahertz in the 3.45-3.55 GHz range across the contiguous U.S. No bidder can win more than 40-megahertz of spectrum.

According to the FCC list, 26 applications are completed and 16 remain incomplete, for a total of 42 potential bidders.

AT&T, T-Mobile and US Cellular are among those with completed applications (PDF), while Verizon is listed as incomplete (PDF) (as in the C-band auction, bidding as Cellco Partnership). Dish is also in the mix, bidding under Weminuche LLC, according to AllNet Insights & Analytics President Brian Goemmer.

Private equity firm Grain Management, which spent $1.2 billion as the fifth largest winner of C-band spectrum, is also again notably on the list (again bidding under New Level III).

Aside from Dish, the companies listed above were the biggest spenders in the C-band auction.

Interestingly, cable companies seem to be sitting Auction 110 out.

“I think that it is very surprising to not see Charter or Comcast on the list,” Goemmer said, adding that in the past the cable operators (which have respective MVNO businesses) have been relatively easy to identify from applications. The cable companies qualified as joint bidders in the 3.7 GHz C-band, but did not come away with big holdings.

September 2 is the deadline to submit corrected applications (for those listed as incomplete) and for all applicants to make upfront payments. After that, the FCC will release the official list of qualified bidders for Auction 110.

Based on the lists, New Street analysts noted that much of the competition at the next mid-band spectrum auction will likely be concentrated among wireless carriers.

“It appears that Cable has not signed up to bid. No other dark horses (such as a Big Tech player) immediately jump out either, suggesting the bulk of the competition for the spectrum will happen between carriers (as expected),” wrote New Street’s Jonathan Chaplin in a Wednesday note to investors.

The 100-megahertz up for grabs at Auction 110 is divided into ten unpaired 10-megahertz blocks, licensed by geographic partial economic areas (PEAs) nationwide. There are restrictions and cooperative sharing requirements for 3.45-3.55 GHz licenses, in coordination with the DoD.

The band has NTIA and DoD-identified Cooperative Planning Areas (CPAs) and Periodic Use Areas (PUAs), so in some areas license winners need to coordinate with incumbent federal military users who need to maintain or utilize the spectrum either at the specified location or during certain periods of time.

T-Mobile in June cited some technical issues with the 3.45 GHz band and the need for more information that it expected from the DoD over the summer. T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray also noted it’s a much different auction than C-band, which offered 280-megahertz and generated more than $81 billion in proceeds.

Still, 3.45 GHz spectrum up for auction is in the mid-band range seen as key for 5G by offering a mix of coverage and capacity, and sits nearby the 3.7 GHz C-band and the shared 3.5 GHz Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band.

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