For the first time in decades, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is auctioning highly valuable 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum. The 2.5 GHz spectrum being auctioned is the same 2.5 GHz spectrum bands that T-Mobile uses to deliver its highly successful 5G service. The 2.5 GHz mid-band spectrum can support faster speeds and greater capacity than low-band spectrum and can penetrate walls and provide more coverage than high-band spectrum like CBRS and C-Band.
The FCC will auction the spectrum using County-sized market areas similar to the FCC CBRS Auction county-sized market areas. The 2.5 GHz spectrum has been limited, until now, to educational and Tribal entities. In 2019, the FCC reconfigured the 2.5 GHz areas that were not yet licensed – approximately 50% of the U.S. geography – and opened the door wide for an assortment of entities to participate in the auction. Also, like the CBRS spectrum auction, licenses to be auctioned are located primarily rural areas. Two large band blocks of approximately 50 MHz each will be available in addition to one smaller 17 MHz block of spectrum. FCC Auction 108 is scheduled for late July 2022 but a deadline is coming up: Applications to participate in Auction 108 are due by May 10, 2022.
The auction may draw many types of participants. These include utilities seeking to add to their rural CBRS spectrum, energy firms operating in rural areas, schools holding Educational Broadband Service (EBS) licenses seeking to increase their holdings in new geographies, investors looking to build their base of spectrum assets, and wireless broadband providers (WISPS) wanting more exclusive high throughput services. Non-provider entities that acquire 2.5 GHz licenses in Auction 108 also may benefit by leasing or selling the spectrum to commercial providers such as T-Mobile, which is expanding its 5G network using 2.5 GHz spectrum.
Navigating the auction will be complex however because of existing EBS licenses held by educational institutions and tribal nations. Interested parties should conduct careful due diligence on their markets of interest before bidding. To help bring interested parties up to speed, Womble Bond Dickinson attorneys Bob Silverman and Barlow Keener joined Nokia consulting engineer Dave Fritz to host an educational webinar about how and why to participate in Auction 108. A recording of the webinar is available here (Passcode: =.PT&7$g).