Government raises $19.8 billion in airwaves auction

The licenses are for spectrum in the 600MHz range, which in terms of spectrum, is some seriously high-quality stuff.

The radio waves in question are highly prized due to their ability to travel long distances and to penetrate walls - something that higher frequency waves have difficulty doing. It also gives T-Mobile triple the low-band spectrum per customer than Verizon. T-Mobile walked away with the largest number of licenses.

T-Mobile spent the most out of all the bidders, dumping $8 billion into the contest.

On top of that, current phones don't support 600MHz wireless. Qualcomm will be turning out chips supporting the 600MHz band and compatible handsets will be available later this year. Dish has been hoovering up spectrum for several years now.

Making this timing all the more pressing for T-Mobile is the fact that 5G is supposed to start rolling out in 2020. T-Mobile president John Legere said in a tweet. All together, 175 broadcasters participated, agreeing to either swap their spectrum for another frequency or sell outright and share spectrum with another station. If you've been reading our coverage of the FCC auction (which stretches back over two years), you know that these low-frequency airwaves travel farther and penetrate building better. The carrier, which said it would be aggressive in the low-band spectrum auction, picked up 1,525 total 10-megahertz licenses covering 414 of the auction's 428 partial economic areas. Dish declined to comment.

FCC officials told reporters Thursday that analysts, not the agency itself, were responsible for raising monetary expectations for the auction, whose revenues will help fund the TV channel changes and pay down the national debt. It spent $1.7 billion for 73 licenses. It is unclear what they plan to do with the money. Rather than an outright purchase of the licenses, Verizon agreed to remain open to an MVNO relationship with the cable operators, presumably lowering the price tag for the spectrum in return. AT&T offered $910 million for the licenses, while Verizon declined to bid.

104 companies applied to bid for the broadcasters' airwaves, with Sprint and Verizon not bidding. Restrictions placed on companies involved in the auction made it hard for them to discuss deals. Consumers may have to rescan their sets to get them. This auction may have been a huge win for T-Mobile, but it's ultimately still playing catch-up.

  • Joey Payne