10B question 230Based on the results of auctions this year in Spain, England, and Korea, the 3.7-4.2 GHz band would go for $10B-$25B. This was little used until 64 antenna Massive MIMO has suddenly made it very valuable. Antennas in higher frequencies can be smaller, and tens of thousands of 64/128 antenna rigs have shipped. The first results are customer speeds in the hundreds of megabits, confirming the trials and models. There's enough spectrum involved that all the telcos could double their spectrum holding.

In Britain, 150 MHz of spectrum went for 1.05B pounds, about US$1.35B. At that rate, 500 MHz would be $3.3B. The U.S. has almost five times Britain's population, so ~US$16B. None of the four UK carriers got more than 50 MHz, less than ideal. Bidding was strong.

In Korea, 280 MHz went for $2.7B. Adjusting for the U.S. population, that would be ~US$30B.

In Spain, 320 MHz went for US$511M. Spain had only three bidders and enough spectrum for all to get 90-100 MHz, the ideal for the band. So there was no competitive bidding and they got it cheap. 

The FCC is considering skipping an auction for the 3.7-4.2 GHz bands, key for 5G. The market cap of Intelsat, a licensee, has gone up from $500M to $3B, just on the hope Pai and Reilly will let this go through.

That's a remarkable price for a company $15B in debt, has declining sales, and has lost $2B in the last four years. 

(The best experts get auction estimates very wrong. I'm not an expert. This is just a simple extrapolation of the prices abroad. To do better requires deep game theory. and even then the accuracy is low. Ask Charlie Ergen.)

For now, I'll leave it to DC reporters like Cecilia Kang and Brian Fung to figure out the reasons the giveaway may go through. (I'm swamped and they are paid to cover this.) What I bring to the discussion is an updated estimate of the value of the spectrum.

The key claim of Intelsat/Verizon and their supporters is that it is crucial to get this spectrum fast to market because the telcos need it soon. B________. Sprint is doing 2.5 GHz, not 3.5-4.2. Verizon is doing 28 GHz, where they have 800 MHz of spectrum. That's enough for more than a decade. AT&T is doing 39 GHz and has 50 MHz low-band unused. T-Mobile is doing interesting things in the shared 3.5 and 4.9 GHz bands, enough for several years or more. So who needs the spectrum so fast? 

Also, the claim giving it away is much faster than an is bogus. The mmWave auctions this fall were organized this year. Intelsat is threatening to tie things up in court if it doesn't get its way. IANAL, but I've read FCC auction documents and I don't think they have a leg to stand on. It's cheap blackmail.

The Reverse Auction saved US$2-4B, a remarkable success. Think if Pai brought in another US$5-15B here. My progressive friends will never forgive him after Net Neutrality but I can respect him for what he achieves. 

There's another US$2-8B to save by bringing the auction lesson to CAF, but I don't think the FCC has enough courage.

dave askOn Oct 1, Verizon will turn on the first $20B 5G mmWave network, soon offering a gigabit or close to 30M homes. The estimates you hear about 5G costs are wildly exaggerated. Verizon is building the most advanced wireless network while keeping capex at around 15%.

The Koreans, Chinese, and almost all Europeans are not doing mmWave in favor of mid-band "5G," with 4G-like performance. Massive MIMO in either 4G or "5G" can increase capacity 4X to 10X, including putting 2.3 GHz to 4.2 GHz to use. Cisco & others see traffic growth slowing to 30%/year or less. Verizon sees cost/bit dropping 40% per year. I infer overcapacity almost everywhere.  

The predicted massive small cell builds are a pipe dream for vendors for at least five years. Verizon expects to reach a quarter of the U.S. without adding additional small cells. 

In the works: Enrique Blanco and Telefonica's possible mmWave disruption of Germany; Believe it or don't: 5G is cheap because 65% of most cities can be covered by upgrading existing cells; Verizon is ripping out and replacing 200,000 pieces of gear expecting to save half. 


 5G Why Verizon thinks differently and what to do about it is a new report I wrote for STL Partners and their clients.

STL Partners, a British consulting outfit I respect, commissioned me to ask why. That report is now out. If you're a client, download it here. If not, and corporate priced research is interesting to you, ask me to introduce you to one of the principals.

It was fascinating work because the answers aren't obvious. Lowell McAdam's company is spending $20B to cover 30M+ homes in the first stage. The progress in low & mid-band, both "4G" and "5G," has been remarkable. In most territories, millimeter wave will not be necessary to meet expected demand.

McAdam sees a little further. mmWave has 3-4X the capacity of low and mid-band. He sees an enormous marketing advantage: unlimited services, even less congestion, reputation as the best network. Verizon testing found mmWave rate/reach was twice what had been estimated. All prior cost estimates need revision.

My take: even if mmWave doesn't fit in your current budget, telcos should expand trials and training to be ready as things change. The new cost estimates may be low enough to change your mind.