The Federal Communications Commission has shared the results of its long-awaited . A company called Cellco Partnership, better known as Verizon (Engadget’s parent company), came away from the proceedings the clear winner. It spent $45.4 billion, more than every other participant combined, to secure 3,511 individual 20Mhz blocks of spectrum across the country. AT&T came in second place, winning 1,621 licenses on a $23.4 billion spend. In third place, you have two different companies. In terms of spend, it was T-Mobile with its $9.3 billion in bids, but US Cellular came ahead of the carrier with 254 licenses to its 142. All told, the auction raised more than $81 billion, significantly more than the $20 to $30 billion windfall that was projected last summer.
All big three carriers will use the spectrum to build out their 5G networks. For Verizon, however, the auction was a must-win in many ways. To date, its buildout has mostly depended on . That’s allowed it to build a 5G network that is fast, but . Millimeter waves are notoriously fickle. They can’t travel far and they oscillate so quickly they tend to scatter against any walls and obstacles they meet. Its new spectrum will allow Verizon to build out its 5G network without deploying cell sites at every intersection.
Now that #CBand auction results are public, time for carriers to start explaining what they are going to do with their billions of dollars of new spectrum.
Verizon is up first with an investor day on 3/10. T-Mobile goes next with its own analyst event on 3/11.
— Eli Blumenthal (@eliblumenthal) February 24, 2021
What’s most surprising is the amount of money AT&T spent. It only recently reduced its debt load to about and now it’s spending $23.4 billion. But while T-Mobile could afford to sit back because of its $23 billion , AT&T could not. The carrier needs that spectrum to stay competitive. Just as notable are the companies that didn’t walk away with any spectrum. Comcast, Charter and Cox formed a joint venture called C&C Wireless Holding to take part in the auction and didn’t win any licenses.
In many ways, it’s only the easy part that’s done now. Now the carriers need to actually build the infrastructure that will take advantage of the spectrum they won. It may also take a while before most people see the benefits of those investments. While some C-band spectrum will be available by the end of the year, other parts won’t be ready until 2023.