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Verizon heavily outspent AT&T and T-Mobile in massive 5G auction


It's no secret that all of America's big four wireless service providers have pretty large gaps to fill in their current 5G networks before they can deliver meaningful speed upgrades for consumers on a truly nationwide scale. T-Mobile, for instance, is the industry's clear leader as far as 5G availability is concerned, but in terms of the actual user experience, Magenta's "next-gen" network can't even compete with the 4G LTE offerings of some of its rivals.
Meanwhile, Verizon's "Ultra Wideband" signal is light-years ahead of the competition... when accessible, which generally happens in crowded downtown areas of major cities as long as there are no trees, walls, or other obstacles blocking your phone from making a very significant speed jump. As for AT&T, its 5G rollout has frankly been a disaster so far, as evidenced by both the speed and coverage sections of recent real-world tests.
With all of that in mind, it should come as no surprise that Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile were seemingly engaged in a bitter bidding war recently as part of the FCC's Auction 103. The "largest amount of spectrum ever offered in an auction in US history" collected a grand total of more than $7.5 billion in net bids, of which Verizon snapped up the biggest and juiciest piece, coughing up over $1.6 billion for close to 5,000 licenses.

T-Mobile lagged behind its main rivals

Even though we are talking about the nation's number one cellular company here, Big Red's spending spree was somewhat unexpected. Analysts had anticipated T-Mobile's thirst for high-band 5G properties would far exceed that of Verizon given the latter has centered much of its early deployment strategy on this technology already.

But while neglecting to combine that spectrum with low and mid-band 5G technology is looking like the wrong strategy from the outside, Big Red is chugging along, planning to further expand its mmWave network in more (densely populated) places.

Curiously enough, T-Mobile was surpassed in its latest round of spending by AT&T as well, although if you combine the "Un-carrier's" newly purchased spectrum with Sprint's Auction 103 winnings, the gap between second and third place is a little narrower. We're talking close to $1.2 billion shelled out by "Ma Bell" in exchange for almost 3,300 licenses, compared to $872 million and $114 million spent by T-Mobile and Sprint on roughly 2,400 and exactly 127 licenses respectively. 

What's next for Verizon, AT&T, and New T-Mobile

Following this record-breaking mmWave (aka high-band) auction, the Federal Communications Commission plans to organize another two bidding wars by the end of 2020. Both of these auctions will focus on mid-band spectrum, which is the backbone of Sprint's current 5G network, with a 3.5 GHz round kicking off on June 25 and a 3.7 GHz (aka C-band) contest scheduled to begin on December 8.
 
You can probably expect Verizon and AT&T to lead the spending charts of those two auctions as well after T-Mobile and Sprint close their merger. Of course, the "Un-carrier's" ambition knows no bounds and even its "supercharged" 5G network will likely need further work and expansion before achieving the ambitious goal set by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who thinks the United States can "lead the world in the development and deployment of 5G technologies." 

That's certainly not the case right now, but maybe it will be in the not-so-distant future.


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