Who’s set to bid in the upcoming 2.5 GHz auction?

AT&T, T-Mobile US and Verizon head up a field of 82 qualified bidders for the upcoming auction of 2.5 GHz spectrum, primarily available in rural areas across the U.S. and its territories. The auction will kick off on July 29.

US Cellular is also a qualified bidder in the auction, as is Dish Wireless, bidding under the name Carbonate Wireless.

There are a significant number of small and medium-sized telecom network operators set to participate in the auction, including Carolina West Wireless, Cellular South Wireless, Copper Valley Wireless, Granite Wireless, Nex-Tech Wireless, NSight, Puerto Rico Telephone Company, Redzone Wireless and Union Telephone Company.

DoCoMo Pacific, a subsidiary of NTT DoCoMo which serves the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, is also a qualified bidder. So are a number of rural cooperatives and the city of Ketchikan, Alaska’s municipal public utility, which provides telecom services.

There will be approximately 8,000 county-level licenses up for grabs in Auction 108, largely limited to rural areas of the United States. The 2.5 GHz (2.496-2.690 GHz) spectrum available in this auction is being sold as overlay licenses, as a result of FCC action in the past few years to reform the use of the band, which used to be known as the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) band. The former Sprint, in particular, had built up extensive leasing arrangements across the country with educational institutions who held EBS licenses. T-Mobile US acquired Sprint’s 2.5 GHz spectrum when it bought the rival carrier and has relied heavily on that midband spectrum deployment for its 5G services. This auction gives the operator the chance to buy still more 2.5 GHz spectrum as it continues to emphasize its pursuit of customers in smaller and rural areas.

The overlay licensees, the FCC has said, will have to protect operations of existing incumbents in the band.

There are three channels available, according to the FCC band plan: Channel 1, which consists of 49.5 megahertz of spectrum; Channel 2 is adjacent to Channel 1 and consists of 50.5 megahertz of spectrum. There is also a smaller channel, Channel 3, which consists of 17.5 megahertz and is not adjacent to either of the other two channels.

This auction will use an ascending clock format auction. The FCC also unveiled a new mapping tool so that would-be bidders can find out whether there are unassigned 2.5 GHz licenses in areas they are considering.

The bidding field of 82 is larger than many FCC auctions, with the agency’s past millimeter-wave auctions sometimes attracting fewer than 40 qualified bidders. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum auction in 2020 had the largest number of bidders in an FCC auction: 271 bidders qualified, with 228 of them ultimately winning Priority Access Licenses. The C-Band spectrum auction, which raised the highest auction total ever at more than $80 billion, had 57 qualified bidders, but only 21 ultimately won