We already know that T-Mobile is planning to go big during next year’s 600MHz spectrum auction. But it’s starting to look like there may not even be a ton of competition against T-Mo, at least not for the reserve spectrum.
We already know that Sprint isn’t planning to take part in the auction because it feels that its current spectrum holdings are enough. Now some smaller carriers are expressing disinterest in the reserve spectrum, too. Pat Riordan, CEO of Wisconsin carrier Cellcom, played down the auction at a conference last week. Riordan cited the fact that to buy spectrum would require Cellcom to tie up millions of dollars for several years as it waits for broadcasters to move off the 600MHz airwaves before it can put them to use. Riordan also explained that the reserve — which sets aside up to 30MHz in a given market just for smaller carriers — doesn’t cover every market, and so in some areas smaller carriers like Cellcom will be competing with AT&T and Verizon. “We are realizing now that the reserve doesn’t do us any good,” Riordan said.
It appears as though not all small carriers at which the reserve is targeted at share Riordan’s concerns, though. Steve Berry, head of the Competitive Carrier Association (a group meant to help smaller carriers grow and compete), has said that a large majority of the more than 100 members of the CCA has indicated that they to take part in the auction. However, Berry said that some operators aren’t totally on board.
T-Mobile CFO Braxton Carter has indicated that Magenta could have up to $10 billion to spend in this 600MHz auction if needed. Kathleen Ham, T-Mobile VP of Federal Regulatory Affairs, echoed the importance of T-Mo doing well in the auction, saying that the carrier is banking on getting all of the spectrum that it needs from the auction. “It’s that important.” Obviously we won’t know how things will go down in the auction until it actually takes place next year, but with other carriers backing away from the auction or expressing doubts about it and T-Mobile brandishing a pile of cash, it’s looking like the auction could go pretty well for Team Magenta.
The 600MHz auction is currently slated to be held in March 2016.