The CBRS Priority Access License auction has concluded after 76 rounds and raising more than $4.58 billion in bids.
The auction of spectrum at 3.55-3.65 GHz, which began July 23, was the single largest auction by number of licenses that the Federal Communications Commission has ever conducted. It offered seven PALs per county in the U.S. and its territories: 22,631 licenses. It also had a singularly large and diverse field of bidders: 271 qualified bidders, among them universities, Chevron, Deere and Company and the Starwood Holdings hotel chain, joining electricity companies, wireless internet service providers and the three national mobile network operators.
Of the 22,631 licenses, bidders won 20,625. The FCC technically still holds 2,006 PALs, but due to the nature of the three-tiered CBRS spectrum-sharing framework, that spectrum will be able to be assigned under General Authorized Access.
In recent days, fewer than a dozen counties were at issue, and the last several rounds revolved around settling the prices for just two counties: Napa county, CA and Benton county, TN. The auction ended once demand for the seven PALs in each county was equal to or less than the supply of available licenses.
Each PAL consists of a 10 megahertz unpaired channel at 3.55-3.65 GHz. Bidders could bid on up to four PALs per license area and can aggregate them; in addition to PALs, 80 megahertz of the 150 megahertz band is available for use under the General Authorized Access (GAA) tier of the CBRS spectrum-sharing framework. According to analysis by Ari Meltzer and Rick Engelman with Wiley Rein, no PALs were sold in ten counties in Alaska (Aleutians East, Aleutians West, Bristol Bay, Dillingham, Haines, Kusilvak, Petersburg, Prince of Wales-Hyder, Skagway, and Wrangell), two counties in American Samoa (Rose Island and Swains Island), and in the Northern Marianas Islands. In another 675 counties, only some of the available PALs were sold. All PALs were sold in 2,543 counties.
“The FCC successfully closed out the bidding in the 3.5 GHz/CBRS spectrum auction this afternoon, raising almost $4.486 billion in gross proceeds. This was an important auction providing 70 megahertz of desirable mid-band spectrum that drew a very large number of qualified bidders (271). It appears that this level of participation ensured healthy competition in many markets, with the largest markets generally having more than 25 rounds of competitive bidding and 20 markets with 40 or more rounds of competitive bidding,” said Engelman.
The average price per MHz/POP for the PALs $0.216921, according to analysis by Sasha Javid, COO at BitPath and former chief data officer and legal advisor on the FCC’s Incentive Auction Task Force. Comparatively, the last three millimeter wave auctions stacked up with nationwide price per MHz/POPs and totals raised of:
- Auction 101 (28 GHz): $0.0113 MHz/POP, $702 million raised
- Auction 102 (24 GHz): $0.009112 MHz/POP, $2 billion raised
- Auction 103 (upper 37, 39 and 42 GHz): $0.007110 MHz/POP, $7.5 billion raised
The PALs with the highest prices are:
- Los Angeles county, CA: $52 million
- Cook county, IL: $39.85 million
- Orange county, CA: $27.4 million
- San Diego county, CA: $21.2 million
- Harris county, TX: $19.1 million
The auction saw broad interest across counties large and small, with rural counties getting an unusual amount of attention from the very first day of bidding.
The FCC said it will release an official public notice on Auction 105’s closing in the next few days, which will provide bidders with details on on post-auction procedures and payment deadlines; at the same time, it will release round-by-round results and bidder identities. Since the specific spectrum blocks will be assigned by the Spectrum Access Systems, there is no assignment phase for this auction.