The C-Band Spectrum Auction: Retrospective and Prospective Observations

May 2021
Topics: Wireless Communications, Signal Processing, Economic and Cost Analysis
Carolyn A. Kahn, The MITRE Corporation
Susan Hanson, The MITRE Corporation
Stephen L. Giles, The MITRE Corporation
Connor Freeberg, The MITRE Corporation
Leila Ribeiro, The MITRE Corporation
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“Going once, going twice, sold!” The C-band auction set a record as the highest grossing auction of electromagnetic spectrum ever. It may have also been the highest revenue-generating auction of any kind ever.

The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) conducted Auction 107 for 280 megahertz (MHz) of electromagnetic spectrum in the C-band, specifically 3.7–3.98 gigahertz (GHz). The initial clock auction results of the C-band auction exceeded all expectations, reaching $80.9 billion, which was about 170 percent higher than prevailing a priori industry projections. On top of this result, bidders will pay an additional $9.7 billion in accelerated clearing payments, $3.3 billion in relocation costs, and $0.3 billion in premiums resulting from the assignment phase of the auction. These results indicate that spectrum supporting mobile networks will continue to hold value.

The C-band auction concluded on February 17, 2021, with highest bids from the three major U.S. mobile network operators (MNOs)—Verizon ($45.4 billion for 3,511 licenses), AT&T ($23.4 billion for 1,621 licenses), and T-Mobile ($9.3 billion for 142 licenses). In the six months prior to the auction, multiple auction estimates were published in the $30 billion range, including those by Morgan Stanley, Raymond James, Sasha Javid, and MITRE. More optimistic estimates included the Besen Group’s estimate of $40 billion, the New Street estimate of $52 billion, and the January 2020 C-Band Alliance estimate from NERA and Evercore of $43 to $77 billion.

MITRE conducted a retrospective analysis of the C-band auction to highlight key observations and factors contributing to higher-than-expected results. 

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