March of the Mid-band Spectrum Auctions Has Begun

Randy Sukow


With one FCC auction for mid-band spectrum already in progress, the Commission yesterday set the schedule for more mid-band auctions through the early part of 2021. At its regular monthly meeting it approved the final bidding procedures for the C-band (3.7–3.98 GHz) auction, which begins on Dec. 8. At the same time, Chairman Ajit Pai said that the Commission will go ahead with an auction for licenses in the 2.5 GHz band (2.496–2.69 GHz) “in the first half of 2021.”

Those auctions will augment the mid-band capacity available for 5G wireless services already being created by the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) auction (3.55-3.65 GHz), which began in July. Several rural broadband providers are participating in the CBRS auction, which has attracted more than $2.3 billion in gross bids so far.

“These [mid-band] airwaves are critical for 5G.  They feature the attractive combination of good geographic coverage with strong capacity, which enables providers to broadly deploy fast 5G networks,” Pai said. “Despite starting from scratch in 2017, this FCC has been working hard to make more than 600 MHz of mid-band spectrum available for 5G deployments.”

In addition to 5G deployments, NRTC is exploring ways to apply mid-band spectrum to other wireless functions touching both commercial and utility communications especially suited for rural users.

The C-band auction will offer 5,684 licenses in the U.S. Partial Economic Areas (PEAs). The Commission will conduct the auction in two phases. Bidders will establish the demand for spectrum in certain categories during the initial “clock phase.” Participants will then bid for specific assignments during the “assignment phase.”

The FCC will soon release the text of the Public Notice detailing the procedures and the auction timeline. The filing window for the short-form application to enter the auction is likely to be two weeks in mid-September.

Under an earlier order, the FCC has already set aside 2.5 GHz spectrum for deployment on tribal lands. Interested tribal communities currently are in a filing window for licenses which closes on Sept. 2. Pai said yesterday that the FCC has received more than 280 applications.

Once the Tribal priority ends, the Commission will organize a commercial auction for the remaining available licenses in other parts of the country. The FCC is drawing the spectrum from underutilized portions of the Educational Broadband Service (EBS) and Broadband Radio Service (BRS). A year ago, Pai originally hoped to begin the 2.5 GHz auction in 2020.

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