It’s finally coming to an end. On March 6th, the FCC is launching the final stage of its 600MHz auction process – the assignment phase, where winning bidders of the forward auction will bid on specific frequencies. This final tranche is scheduled to definitively end on March 30th. A modest $19.63B of proceeds were generated after multiple auction round phases. What Tom Wheeler, the former FCC Chairman, promised would be a “spectrum extravaganza” ended up being more of a subdued spectrum luncheon. Gordon Smith, head of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) brought attention to the fact that the previous auction, which ended January 2015, raised $40B for just half the spectrum moved in the current auction and derided cries of a spectrum crunch that needed addressing. Explaining the underwhelming results (in the face of initial predictions that ran as high as $80B) is simple: broadcasters showed up and the wireless carriers did not. The former still came away with a nice payday however – Fox Television Stations, for instance, expects to receive $350m for the spectrum it off loaded. It’s far below estimates, but still nothing to scoff at.
The journey to 5G continues to make steady, contentious steps forward. The 3rd generation partnership project (3GPP) released the official 5G logo, which includes an image of waves harking back to the existing LTE logo. To mitigate carriers gratuitously marketing with the new logo, the 3GPP set out a strict set of legal guidelines for its use. Carriers are mobilizing their access to high band frequency spectrum, which really only could be used for future 5G ambitions. Testing is also planned with Verizon launching trials in 10 locations across the United States and AT&T going to market in Indianapolis and Austin. This phenomena is not only present in the United States – Huawei formed a partnership with PLFT to introduce 5G networks in the Philippines in 2020.
You may ask, what’s this all for? Well, it seems that the push for leveraging millimeter wave spectrum bands to deliver improved service is driven by consumers’ desire to stream 4K television, which current broadband networks are not built to support.
M&A activity and speculation was still in full force this month. Verizon completed its acquisition of XO Communications’ fiber business. The telco giant has also purchased a drone company and is leveraging recent data breaches to lower the price tag for its attempted acquisition of Yahoo. Sprint’s CFO admitted during its quarterly earnings call that merging with another provider in the industry “may be necessary to compete.” Naturally, many analysts are predicting (and investors are hoping) for a T-Mobile/Sprint merger. There are however signs that T-Mobile may not be interested in such a deal, since Sprint still hasn’t fully turned around its weak performance and T-Mobile has been performing relatively well. Rumors are forming around the possibility of T-Mobile purchasing Dish Network. There is one thing most industry pundits agree on, though, a relaxed regulatory environment in the U.S. will certainly lead to an accelerated volume of M&A activity in the coming quarters.
That’s all for now. Don’t forget to stay tuned for up-to-date news and views from the Vertix team. Until next month…