FCC mmWave spectrum auction ends with nearly $7.6 billion in bids

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A major FCC spectrum auction came to an end this week.

Auction 103 closed on March 5th, nearly three months after it opened. The auction included a total of 3,400 megahertz of spectrum, which is the most ever offered in an auction. Participants were bidding on millimeter wave spectrum in the upper 37GHz, 39GHz, and 49GHz bands.

In total, the auction brought in $7.57 billion.

Right now there’s no official info on how much spectrum each participant won or how much they spent, but analysts at Raymond James estimate that T-Mobile dropped $2 billion on mmWave airwaves.

AT&T, Sprint, and Dish Network are estimated to have spent around $1 billion to $2 billion, while U.S. Cellular is expected to have spent $1 billion or less. Verizon is expected to be one of the smallest participants in the auction, say Raymond James analysts.

T-Mobile currently offers 5G using mmWave but the coverage is far less than T-Mo’s low-band 5G network, which T-Mobile has said offers nationwide coverage of more than 200 million people. To compare, T-Mobile’s mmWave 5G is available in parts of 6 U.S. cities: New York City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas, Cleveland, and Atlanta.

T-Mo hasn’t done much with its mmWave 5G since its launch of the Galaxy S10 5G last year. While T-Mobile has been giving Verizon flak for its mmWave 5G that has limited reach, you’d think that if T-Mo went to the trouble of launching its own mmWave 5G coverage, it’d eventually expand beyond six cities. The talks of T-Mobile possibly spending $2 billion on spectrum in this auction back that up.

Via: Light Reading
Source: FCC

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  • Glenn Gore

    What a total, unmitigated waste of money. 5G on millimeter-wave is a complete joke. Only useful outdoors within a few feet of a transmitter IF nothing, not even a water droplet, is between your device and that transmitter. You can’t even get a signal INSIDE a building if the transmitter is placed on the outside of the building! Totally useless. Do the cellphone companies really think people only want ultra high-speed data service outdoors? Do the cellphone companies have ANYTHING in the works or on the drawing board that could possibly enable use of that 5G inside a building, on any floor, in any room? You know, places where people actually USE their phones for streaming, etc? I haven’t heard or read about anything yet. There seems to be nothing coming up. Just talk about how “5G is in its infancy”, etc etc, with nothing that could actually make it usable. Low-band 5G is no better than LTE, or worse from what I have read. The supposed benefits that are thrown about of low-latency and the like are of no use if data capacity is worse than what they are putting out on their regular LTE. This all seems to be just a colossal waste of money.

    • JG

      To indoor use… That’s generally covered by WiFi rather than cellular.

      Most modern wifi wifi networks should be able to support speeds in the gig range* just like 5G but can also cover a lot larger range. [*Internally at least, you’d obviously need a Gig connection to be abel to access the internet at that speed – and with the FCC pushing for 25mbps connections…]

      Some carriers offer customers the use of microcells. They’re similar to a WiFi router but instead of broadcasting WiFi they broadcast LTE. I’d imagine they’ll probably release a 5G version before too long. Though you’d likely end up needing one per room (at least). [And again, the 5G speeds you’d get from these would be limited to your network connection speed. A 25Mbps plan would obviously max out at 25Mbps rather than the 1gbps promised for 5G by Verizon et al]

      It’s on my ever growing “To Read” pile, but I did come across an article suggesting WiFi’s time may be coming to a close. That factories and Universities and the like will be shifting to offering private 5G networks instead of WiFi.

      I’m not sure what the advantage would be. I’m sure some of the backend congestion mitigation features could be added to WiFi 7 (6 improves on 5 so 7 should on 6). It’ll take awhile for devices to upgrade to the new WiFi, but same for upgrading to 5G or any new system.

      • Glenn Gore

        The “one per room” just further illustrates the problem. No one wants to have to install a complicated setup like that in their home, it might be OK in an office environment, but at what cost for installation and management. I understand that wifi or something like it will have to be used, somehow, but I haven’t heard that they even have anything on the drawing board yet, a 5G microcell, microcell/wifi combo, or anything. Millimeter-wave 5G would be totally unworkable in an indoor environment, just a nightmare of walls, people moving around, pets, you name it, anything would block that signal. It would have to be turned into something else.

        I have yet to visit a business with gigabit wifi available, it’s always in the usual 5-10 Mbps. Gigabit connections really are not a normal thing across the country. So, like you, I really have no clue what’s going to happen, I just know that nothing related to millimeter-wave is workable right now and probably won’t be for a very long time.

        • marque2

          I would guess I would attach a mmWave receiver to the outside of my house and it would route the data to either WIFI or a 2.3ghz band that would penetrate the rest of the house. My understanding is that home internet this way would be one of the few uses.

        • Glenn Gore

          True, but I haven’t read about any carrier or manufacturer coming up with any sort of device yet, or even a timetable for it. The carriers have always been adamant that customers cannot use their service for home internet, but 5G if supposed to allow that according to the PR. One of our local cellular carriers has been selling an LTE-based Linksys router for several years that takes the LTE signal and retransmits it as wifi in your home like a normal router. It’s limited to 9 Mbps data rates, but it works well.

        • marque2

          Supposedly AT&T and Verizon were selling home internet first with mmWave back in 2017. You might not have heard about it because 5g isn’t available in your area yet.

          TMobile is actually – in some regards – considerably behind the others in 5g. They will catch up quick because I think most of the 5g is currently just hype.

          As others have suggested merely shifting your hand on the phone is enough to lose signal. Sheet of paper – light rain. Not sure if there is any value in mmWave

        • Shaun Michalak

          It still does not change the fact that mmwave is extremely limited and the simple fact that off of mmwave, most people will have little to no access to it most, or all of the time.. so mmWave just really is not that big of a bragging point for any company.. After all, what good is it if you can not access it most of the time?

        • Shaun Michalak

          Actually, all the big 4 have that.. I have a Sprint one, T-Mobile just advertised about giving a free one with 1 months of service to people a few months ago, Verizon has them.. Well, I never tried AT&T but I would imagine if the other 3 have them, AT&T would too.

        • Glenn Gore

          I would question the utility of a 5G hotspot that claims to access millimeter ultra-wideband 5G indoors and then rebroadcast it as wifi. Since millimeter-wave does not travel through glass or any sort of building material, how could it work? Sprint’s model probably accesses their mid-band 5G, which does pass through glass and walls to a certain extent. If T-Mobile has one, it probably utilizes Band 71 which also can penetrate building materials. The Verizon and AT&T models I would have serious doubts about, as Verizon only outputs 5G on millimeter-wave spectrum as does AT&T, but AT&T is also launching lower-band 5G in a few places.

        • Shaun Michalak

          They would have one of 2 options.. Either do the thing by WiFi, like the current hot spots do, which would lower their “possible” max speeds.. or option 2 would be to have3 wires run off of the box and run the wires into the house, just like how the cable and phone company do, and go from there.. either one is a possibility.

      • Shaun Michalak

        With what you talk about, for them to work good inside homes, they would have to run on a lower bandwidth frequency.. and if everyone that had internet service, had to run it in their homes, could you imagine the frequency congestion? I live in an area where each person has their own connection, but not everyone has wifi.. and my computer can see 30 different network connections.. 30 networks.. Now if everyone had wifi, or say you lived in an apartment building.. Just imagine the congestion..

  • JG

    Out of curiosity, what happens to the $7.56 billion this auction has raised?

    Pai claims one of his main goals is to end the digital divide… To that end, the FCC plans to continue to offer money to ISPs to expand their networks. They’ve slated $20 billion over the course of the decade. They want ISPs to bring everyone at least a 25Mbps connection. [*This is status quo for the last several years, and ISPs generally fail to meet their goals]

    Or we could try something different… Goldman Sachs estimated bringing fiber to everyone’s house would cost $140 billion. However, they noted if paired with road work, construction of a National Broadband Network (NBN) could be reduced by 90%(!!!!) to a more manageable $14 billion. [*FYI US roads generally last 12-15 years]

    So we could spend $20 billion on a 10 year project that will provide at most a 25Mbps connection to several hundred thousand Americans… Or we could try a $14 billion on a 15 year project that’ll bring a 1,000Mbps connection to every single American.

    The NBN might take slightly longer to construct, but it would not only cost less, reach many more Americans, and it would also provide a far better connection. Pai is on a soap box proclaiming how revolutionary the gigabyte speeds of 5G will be, so why not provide similar connectivity options for it’s wired counterpart?

    In addition to bringing great speeds to every American, no matter how rural, an NBN would have other advantages. It could also help solve another major pain point of US Internet connectivity.

    Recently a large number of AGs tried to block the T-Mobile/Sprint merger citing it would reduce the number of providers from 4 to 3. 3, they claim, would be too few, resulting in higher prices and other harmful anti-competitive actions. The majority of Americans, some 70% of us, have a single choice for broadband. 4 > 3 > 1.

    The NBN could be designed in such a way to allow multiple ISPs to make use of it. Comcast, Spectrum, Cox, AT&T, Verizon, Google and others could all become national ISPs able to potentially provide service to every single American. 6+ > 4 > 3 > 1.

    They would then have to compete with each other in pricing and other value add services (bundles with TV, phone, mobile, VPNs, etc). If I start to use too much data streaming 4k movies & games all night, rather than having to shell out $50 to have Comcast remove the data cap, I could switch to AT&T and get unlimited data and free HBO Max.

    Plus it’d help outside of the internet to… While we’re burying the fiber cables, the copper phone cables, power lines and any of the other cables hanging on the utility poles could be buried to. This could help power companies increase their profits while also decreasing greenhouse gas emissions… Buried cables lose less electricity during transmission, so less power would have to be generated. And they also require less maintenance. And while a bad winter storm might keep you shut in with 9 feet of snow and ice, you won’t have to worry about a cable snapping somewhere throwing you into the dark without power or internet.

    • Shaun Michalak

      I found many things wrong with your statement.. First, claiming that there will be less power outages is just crazy.. Yes, you would not have to worry about the weight of snow, or some branch falling on that line.. But then again, do you know how many times someone has made a mistake while digging up the ground.. They did that here, to a Verizon line, and it took them almost a month to get everything fully back up; and running..

      Do you know how many times they have had to dig up the road in northern areas due to water line breaks, or the road caving in due to it being undermined due to sewer problems, and such?? I guess if you live in some magical city were everything is new in the last 10 years, then that may be true.. But for the majority of northern cities, a good portion of our water and sewer systems are over 80 years old.. Down my street, they were put in in 1920.. 100 years to date.. and do not even get me started on those potholes from the snow and ice that get to be over a foot deep..

      Now lets take into consideration places that get a lot of flooding, and areas get washed out, and roads are literally washed away in the flood.. Do you think that the buried cables are somehow going to survive these things unscathed?? What about earthquakes where the land gets uplifted?? There are way too many factors to take into account, to act like burring cables is some kind of a fix all for things..

      Then lets talk about those “copper” phone lines.. They are trying to do away with copper lines, so why would they put the expense into burring them, of what they want to do is get rid of them??

      • JG

        I’m not saying buried cables are impervious to damage. Obviously they can still be damaged and need repaired or replaced. Some of these may cause blackouts in certain areas. But generally speaking, blackouts happen less frequently once cables have been buried. And their associated maintenance cost drops as well. Is it perfect? No, nothing probably will be. But it is better than having them hanging above our heads. Check with San Diego and other cities throughout the US who have recently engaged in efforts to have their utilities buried.

        And yes, with a country as geographically diverse as the US, one size will not fit all. What works for New Orleans Louisiana may not work at all in Utqiagvik, Alaska, Topeka Kansas or Honolulu Hawaii. Due to local conditions maybe some of the NBN may have to be hung from poles rather than buried. Or have other considerations made. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying. Maybe the NBN in your home town is hung from poles while mine is buried. We still both get access to dozens of ISPs and super fast internet, no matter where our home towns happen to be.

        And yes, copper phone lines are being phased out and no one would probably bother to include them in the NBN package. I just couldn’t think of any other cables that would likely be hanging on the utility poles.

        I was going to suggest maybe keep them as a backup… But if we’re dealing with physical damage, the copper would likely be affected as well. And if its a routing issue… The data would still flow through the same servers, so copper would be affected to…

        • Shaun Michalak

          Your comment says a lot.. “blackouts happen less frequently once cables have been buried.”.. because if they were going to bury the cables, they would obviously be burying new cables, and just new cables in general will have a lot less problems, then say a line that is 50+ years old.. Where I live, we still have a lot of the old knob and tubing types of wires around up on the polls..

          In the end, both sides have their advantages and disadvantages.. Buried cables are not going to be as much of a problem during a tornado, but if they get a seal break, and are in the ground, they could short out from floods.. That is one thing I have heard a lot of complaints about.. phones not working because they got wet when buried.. In the south, they do not have the extreme cold winters like the north gets, so they would have to worry less about water line breaks and stuff.. It is like you said.,. it all depends on the area..

          Here, everything is on the poles, and the only thing buried in most places is the gas lines and water and sewer. My whole point was not that buried lines are a bad thing, but the fact that not all places will that be a good idea to use.. You got 50 miles of line you need to run, with no telephone poles around.. Burying them is definitely the better option.. In my town, it is the worse option..

        • Shakenbake

          Pretty sure they’re using the polls to attach 5g transmitters

      • Shakenbake

        One foot deep potholes?
        Holy hell where do u live

        • Shaun Michalak

          Erie, Pennsylvania.. and yes, I have literally seen them.. They are really bad when you do not see them because they are filled with water until “bam”.. at which time, you can imagine you are probably saying just about every curse word that you can think of.. Since they are not straight shots straight down, you are not hitting it hard like you do with a curb.. But yes, we do get them that deep up here.

    • Francisco Peña

      some neighborhoods are built locked into a specific cable provider, and you can’t use others. As a realtor, i’ve seen it happen.. and as Shaun states, there are too many factors to consider. that $14B would never work, because you are probably assuming every piece of road work to implement this is fully funded now. Counties and cities all struggle for funding for current roads. Our county passed a sales tax increase to deal with road construction, and even that won’t fund all the needed roads and fixes.