Verizon, Dish and cable are winners in 5G U.S. airwaves sale

Verizon Communications and Dish Network were the top winners in a U.S. auction of airwaves that also saw cable providers take home rights to use the frequencies that are useful for fast 5G service, the Federal Communications Commission said.

The agency in an emailed statement released results of the auction that raised $4.6 billion in bidding that concluded Aug. 25.

Cable providers Charter Communications and Comcast were the third- and fourth-largest winners, ranked by spending, the FCC said.

Another FCC airwaves sale set to begin in December will offer even more 5G airwaves. The auctions are part of U.S. efforts to make way for the ultra-fast mobile internet service expected to underlie remote surgery, autonomous vehicles and other advanced applications.

Verizon placed $1.9 billion in winning bids, compared with Dish’s $913 million. The spending reflects a race to serve customers who relentlessly increase their use of mobile data for video viewing and other services. Cable providers, too, face the same pressure. Charter spent $464 million and Comcast $459 million, the FCC said.

Each winner faced different circumstances. Verizon is playing catch-up on spectrum. It has the most mobile subscribers of any U.S. carrier but currently has less airwaves capacity than its No. 2 rival T-Mobile US Inc., which took on a large cache of frequencies as it absorbed Sprint Corp. earlier this year.

Dish’s satellite TV television business has been losing subscribers, and it’s turned to wireless service for new revenue. Since 2008, Dish has spent more than $20 billion on spectrum, but may need more for its planned 5G offerings, according to an Aug. 26 note by Bloomberg Intelligence analysts John Butler and Boyoung Kim.

Comcast and Charter have seen a swell of subscribers who buy wireless service that rides on Verizon’s airwaves. If the cable companies set up their own wireless nodes, they could pay Verizon less.

The auction began July 23 with more than 200 companies registered to bid — an unusually large number. Bidders could buy airwaves covering just a county, an affordable chunk compared with offerings in earlier airwaves sales that featured larger, expensive tracts.

In auctions, licenses serving urban areas typically sell for more than those covering rural expanses where few customers live.

Dish won the 5,492 airwaves licenses, the largest number of any bidder, the FCC said. Comcast won 830 licenses, according to the agency. Three entities won between 1,000 and 1,600 licenses, the FCC said. It listed them as SAL Spectrum LLC, AMG Technology Investment Group LLC and Windstream Services LLC, Debtor-in-Possession. Windstream, which serves rural communities, filed for bankruptcy last year. Investors in SAL Spectrum, according to FCC filings, include BlackRock Inc., the world’s biggest asset manager.

The sale was the first offering by the FCC in recent years of so-called midband airwaves that are well-suited for 5G because they let signals travel far and also carry abundant data. Proceeds will go to the U.S. Treasury.

The airwaves sold are in the so-called CBRS band. The acronym stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Service. It’s located in the 3.5 gigahertz band.

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