同时，United States Cellular斥资2.56亿美元，总部设在波士顿的无线宽带初创公司Starry以及数据通信服务商Windstream分别投入了4800万美元和2700万美元。有线电视公司和此前对无线业务显示出兴趣的大型科技公司并未参与本次拍卖。
AT&T和威瑞森已经开始部署5G业务，其下载速度有可能达到4G LTE网络的10到50倍，而它用的就是和本次拍卖一样的毫米波频段。威瑞森已经开始在明尼苏达和芝加哥的部分区域销售三星盖乐世S10 5G手机，并计划于今年晚些时候在另外几十座城市上线此项业务。AT&T也已经在19座城市的部分区域通过移动热点提供5G服务。AT&T还表示，其5G推广方案还包括一些较低频段，将在明年早些时候推广到全国范围内。
上周一，New Street Research的分析师乔纳森·卓别林在分析报告中写道，本次拍卖结果似乎表明毫米波频段对5G业务来说并不是那么关键。他指出：“本次拍卖中的价格应该让投资者怀疑威瑞森和AT&T是否有信心把毫米波频段作为5G主要频段。这两家公司也许会表示他们用难以置信的价格拿下了很棒的5G频段，但如果真是这样，其他三家参与竞标的通信服务公司为什么不加大力度，以便拿到更多频段呢？而且其他公司为什么不投标呢？”
AT&T and T-Mobile were the top bidders, with each spending almost $1 billion for rights in the 24 GHz and 28 GHz bands, the Federal Communications Commission said on last Monday. Verizon, which already owned a considerable amount of airwaves in the 28 GHz band before the auction, spent $521 million.
Meanwhile, United States Cellular spent $256 million, Boston-based wireless broadband startup Starry spent $48 million, and data carrier Windstream spent $27 million. The auction didn’t draw any bids from cable companies and big tech players that have previously shown an interest in wireless.
The total was far less than the $20 billion to $45 billion that the wireless industry spent each at auctions over the past decade covering airwaves in the 600 MHz, 700 MHz, and 1700 MHz bands. Sometimes referred to as the millimeter wave bands, the high frequency airwaves sold at the latest auction can carry a tremendous amount of data, but they don’t travel nearly as far as lower frequency bands and can be blocked easily by buildings and trees.
AT&T and Verizon have already begun deploying 5G service, which can reach download speeds 10 to 50-times faster than current 4G LTE networks, using millimeter wave frequencies like those just auctioned. Verizon has started selling the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G phone for use in parts of Minnesota and Chicago, with dozens more cities planned to come online later this year. AT&T has been offering 5G service via a mobile hotspot in parts of 19 cities and says its rollout plan, which will also include some lower frequency band spectrum, will be nationwide by early next year.
But the lack of big money going after the millimeter wave bands at the latest auctions had analysts wondering if AT&T and Verizon will be able to rely mainly on such bands for 5G service. T-Mobile says it would start 5G service with 600 MHz spectrum later this year and Sprint just started using the 2.5 GHz band to offer 5G in four cities.
The results seem to indicate that millimeter wave spectrum won’t be so crucial for 5G service, New Street Research analyst Jonathan Chaplin wrote in a report on the results on last Monday. “The prices fetched in this auction should cause investors to question Verizon and AT&T’s confidence in using mmWave as their primary band for mobile 5G,” he wrote. “Verizon and AT&T might claim that they just got their hands on great 5G spectrum at an incredible price, but if that were true, why didn’t the three participating carriers bid harder to get more? And why didn’t others bid?”
Other countries like South Korea, Japan, and Germany are relying on mid-wave spectrum bands in the 3 GHz to 4 GHz range for 5G service. Such airwaves balance the need for high capacity with the longer distance the signals can travel. But in the United States, most of the mid-band has been assigned to other users, like the military and communications satellites. The FCC is working on plans to share or re-assign some of the airwaves for 5G use, with support from the Trump administration.
So the carriers may have been saving money to bid on future mid-band spectrum freed up by the FCC, analyst John Hodulik at UBS noted. Mid-band spectrum “will likely serve as the workhorse of 5G,” he wrote. “We believe all carriers are interested in gaining new mid-band airwaves and auction results preserve dry powder for additional spending.”