Verizon, AT&T spend over $68 billion trying to catch up to T-Mobile's 5G layer cake

Verizon, AT&T spend over $68 billion trying to catch up to T-Mobile's 5G layer cake
T-Mobile's purchase of Sprint allowed T-Mobile to acquire a hoard of mid-band 2.5GHz spectrum and that gave the nation's second-largest carrier a head start over Verizon and AT&T in building out a 5G network. Low-band spectrum covers more ground than other spectrum, penetrates structures better, but offers slower download data speeds closer to 4G LTE. High-band spectrum travels only short distances, has trouble penetrating structures, but delivers the fastest 5G speeds. Mid-band is in the middle, able to travel longer distances than high-band, but not as far as low-band. It also offers 5G download data speed faster than low-band, but not as fast as high-band. T-Mobile calls this combo its 5G triple layer cake and many analysts believe that it will help T-Mobile become the fastest 5G provider in the U.S.

Verizon went another way. It started using high-band mmWave spectrum for its 5G build out. That slowed down Big Red's progress. Using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS), Verizon is able to use its network to support both 4G LTE and low-band 5G. But with mid-band spectrum hard to come by, Verizon needed to pick some up in order to challenge T-Mobile. After pressing the FCC to auction off such spectrum in the C-band, the FCC agreed to take bids on mid-band spectrum in the 3.7GHz-3.98GHz range. Last month, the FCC announced that the auction set a record as $80.9 billion in proceeds trickled in. But the regulatory agency didn't announce the winning bidders-until now.

According to the FCC, the number of winning bids totaled $81,114,481,921. Twenty-one bidders won all of the available 5,684 licenses and Verizon stepped up and did what it had to do. It spent over $45 billion for 3,500 licenses, nearly twice as much as the amount spent by AT&T. The latter spent over $23 billion for 1,600 licenses. AT&T, like Verizon, needed to add mid-band spectrum to its 5G portfolio. On the other hand, T-Mobile spent over $9 billion for just 162 licenses. Remember, T-Mobile doesn't need as much mid-band spectrum thanks to the $26.5 billion acquisition of Sprint.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, said,"It is essential to America’s economic recovery that we deliver on the promise of next-generation wireless services for everyone, everywhere. This auction reflects a shift in our nation’s approach to 5G toward mid-band spectrum that can support fast, reliable, and ubiquitous service that is competitive with our global peers. Now we have to work fast to put this spectrum to use in service of the American people. Special thanks go to our great FCC auctions team, and their colleagues in the Wireless Telecommunications and International Bureaus, among others, for this success."

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