Despite speculation throughout the wireless industry, the FCC has set October 5th as the date to begin bidding on mid-band spectrum in the 3.45 GHz band. Major wireless carriers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon are all on the fence about the spectrum wanting to gain further insight before committing to the spectrum. There are technical issues that may be scaring off potential bidders from the band. “I honestly think there’s still a lot to learn,” said Neville Ray, T-Mobile’s President of Technology.
Known as Auction 110, the FCC is looking to auction 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz range with a reserve price set at around $14.7 billion. There are 4,060 flexible-use licenses which will see 100 MHz split into ten 10 MHz channels. Licenses will be issued as they were for the C-band auction that finished early 2021, which went by geographical areas known as Partial Economic Areas (PEAs), but it will differ because coordination requirements for blocks in the same category might vary depending on its PEA.
A challenge for the FCC is to create a fair playing field that will provide a path for smaller entities to acquire spectrum. This would also improve participation because there is more opportunity. Instead of following the CBRS auction’s rules, a move advocated for by WISPA, the FCC is sticking with the PEAs, however, limiting the amount of spectrum a single bidder can acquire to 40 MHz total.
The primary reason for the speculation surrounding the spectrum is the fact that the 3.45-3.55 GHz band not only shares the 3.5 GHz band for C-band but is also near the 3.7-3.98 GHz band. This is notable because it will require working around the military, with specific consideration to the Department of Defense (DoD).
“A lot more information is going to get shared on that we hope, as we move through the next…six to eight weeks, and that will help us all understand how and where this spectrum is important and the opportunity. So more to come there. We’ll watch that one and we’ll learn a lot more I hope as we go through the summer,” said Ray.
When it comes to the 3.45-3.55 GHz band, there are areas known as Cooperative Planning Areas (CPAs) and Periodic Use Areas (PUAs). Here, users must coordinate with federal entities for usage as to not create interference. The NTIA and FCC have identified 33 CPAs where new licensees will need to comply. AT&T believes that as much as 22% of the population would be affected by limitations while T-Mobile is estimating 120 PEAs combined with PUAs will see limitations for operation. The wireless industry will need to use the next several months having a dialogue about what is and isn’t allowed to ensure that the FCC’s October auction is a success.