$19.8 billion airwaves auction may mean better cell service

Dish, through acquisitions and participation in an earlier auction, has amassed a trove of airwaves, and has said it intends to build a wireless network. The company has racked up new subscribers in recent years and helped tug AT&T and Verizon into offering unlimited plans again. While Qualcomm has announced 600 MHz chipsets, it's not clear that those will make their way into a significant number of phones during 2017.

While the auction was created to incentivize Comcast and other owners of low-band spectrum to free it up for mobile carriers to use, it could take a while before smartphone owners see any improvement in their data speeds. Comcast took $1.7 billion - while selling spectrum of its owned-and-operated NBC television stations in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia for $482 million - while AT&T took $910 million.

T-Mobile is quick to point out that the spectrum they purchased covers 100% of the United States and Puerto Rico, with a nationwide average of 31 MHz of spectrum acquired. Not that far behind T-Mobile was Dish Network. "Comcast bought less than expected, Dish Network bought more, and Verizon bought nothing at all". The auction used market forces to align the use of broadcast spectrum with current consumer demands for mobile video and broadband services, the FCC said.

The FCC said it raised $19.8 billion through the auction. Low-band spectrum is critically important to competition in the wireless industry, and the incentive auction seems, at first look, to have expanded ownership of low-band spectrum beyond those few carriers with dominant low-band holdings.

The goal of the auction - years in the making, and playing out for more than 12 months - was to free up spectrum for wireless use.

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So why did T-Mobile walk away with the most 600MHz spectrum? T-Mo CTO Neville Ray has said that T-Mobile will begin deploying its new spectrum this year in both new and existing markets, but Ray didn't say which markets those will be.

The results of the FCC's low-band spectrum auction just came out, and T-Mobile is the biggest spender by a country mile.

Those smaller carriers simply must continue to leverage new spectrum to compete with their bigger rivals, of course. Comcast also spent some money for licenses in the 600MHz auction. And US Cellular picked up 188 licenses for $328 million, though they're likely to be located in rural areas, thus the lower cost. In the second part of the auction, these rearranged frequency packages were auctioned among the almost 100 registered bidders.

In addition to providing better communication through walls and over long distances, more low-band spectrum in the 600 MHz range will enable wireless service providers to ease congestion and lay the groundwork for 5G connectivity, according to the FCC.

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