FCC CBRS Auction for 5G mid-band spectrum in the 3.5GHz band

The FCC’s Citizens Broadband Radio Systems (CBRS) auction is scheduled to start tomorrow, July 23, 2020.  271 qualified bidders are expected to bid for spectrum in what is referred to as the “5G mid-band.”

FCC Auction 105 will offer 22,631 Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3550-3650 MHz portion of the 3.5 GHz band.

In 2015, the Commission adopted rules for shared commercial use of the 3550-3700 MHz band (3.5 GHz band). The Commission established the CBRS and created a three-tiered access and authorization framework to accommodate shared federal and non-federal use of the band. Rules governing the Citizens Broadband Radio Service are found in Part 96 of the FCC’s rules.

Access and operations will be managed by an automated frequency coordinator, known as a Spectrum Access System (SAS). When managing spectrum access, SASs may incorporate information from an Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC), a sensor network that detects transmissions from Department of Defense radar systems and transmits that information to the SAS. Both SASs and ESCs must be approved by the Commission. SASs will coordinate operations between and among users in three tiers of authorization in the 3.5 GHz band: Incumbent Access, Priority Access, and General Authorized Access.

Past sales offered licenses covering entire metropolitan areas at prices that only large carriers such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. could afford. This one offers smaller licenses — seven in each county in the country for a total of 22,631. That means smaller telecoms, and other companies with new uses for the technology, can bid on spectrum rights in their local areas.

Mid-tier telecoms like Carolina West Wireless and Cincinnati Bell are on the list as well as electric co-ops like the Benton Rural Electric Association and the Illinois Electric Cooperative, Inside Towers reported. Several businesses and schools plan to bid, including: Deere & Company, Duke University and Health System, and the University of Kentucky. Utilities and electricity distributors could use their winnings to expand wireless broadband networks, manage electricity distribution, and install remote meter-reading.

“It’s really a game-changer for all of these non-traditional users,” said Kurt Schaubach, chief technology officer with Federated Wireless, a company based in Arlington, Virginia, that helps coordinate use of the spectrum being auctioned.

“We’ve never had an auction of this size,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly told Bloomberg. Auction winners can only buy four of the seven licenses available in each county, ensuring that no single user can get all of an area’s licenses. Each of the seven licenses provides rights to use the spectrum across an entire county.

A Raymond James analyst estimates the total value of the mid-band spectrum licenses at potentially $10 billion.


Gross proceeds reached roughly $3.54 billion at the end of the 39th round of bidding for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. Auction tracker Sasha Javid of BitPath says, “Bidders have left the most expensive markets like Los Angeles and San Diego and moved into markets that remain relative bargains compared to their predicted prices derived from past auctions.”

“The last few rounds have been a period of bargain hunting,” Javid told Fierce Wireless after Tuesday’s bidding closed. “Bidders have left the most expensive markets like Los Angeles and San Diego and moved into markets that remain relative bargains compared to their predicted prices derived from past auctions.”





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One thought on “FCC CBRS Auction for 5G mid-band spectrum in the 3.5GHz band

  1. Demand outstrips supply in first US mid-band spectrum auction, Mike Dano, Light Reading

    “Demand is currently outstripping supply in many of the largest markets, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago (Cook County) all having excess demand,” wrote Sasha Javid, chief operating officer at BitPath, in a recent LinkedIn post.

    Others agree. “This auction is generating a lot more interest because it’s midband spectrum that will be very attractive not only for the CBRS networks and services, but also for deploying 5G networks, including backhaul delivery and fixed broadband services by WISPs [wireless Internet service providers],” wrote Bernard Borghei, co-founder and EVP of operations for tower company Vertical Bridge, in response to questions from Light Reading.

    According to the FCC’s latest auction figures Tuesday, demand for spectrum is greater than supply in around 1,100 of the 3,233 total US counties where spectrum licenses are available.

    “While early bidding is not a certain predictor of the ultimate demand, it is worth noting that in the early rounds, the excess demand as a percentage of aggregate demand is on par with earlier auctions, suggesting that such factors as sharing and power limits are not, at least so far, suppressing demand,” explained the Wall Street analysts at New Street Research in a note sent to investors over the weekend.


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