FCC wireless auction hits spectrum target, paving way for fast, reliable 5G

The incentive auction is key for carriers to roll out 5G service

Television stations have volunteered to sell off 126MHz of "beach front" wireless spectrum to mobile carriers in an ongoing U.S. Federal Communications Commission auction, potentially bringing higher speeds and more reliable networks to customers.

The 126MHz of spectrum was the highest amount anticipated by the FCC in the so-called incentive auction, agency officials said Friday. In most areas of the country, the agency will be able to auction 10 blocks of 10MHz to mobile carriers and other interested bidders.

This low-band spectrum, in the 600MHz band, is highly coveted by mobile carriers because it can cover long distances and penetrate walls and other obstacles. Mobile carriers have pushed for more spectrum as their customers' network use keeps growing, and the low-band spectrum will help carriers roll out faster 5G service, supporters say.

FCC officials didn't release the number of TV stations that agreed to give up their spectrum, but they said the number was significant. Participating TV stations can either move their over-the-air signals to other spectrum or go off the air in exchange for a share of the auction proceeds. The auction could raise US$60 billion, according to some estimates.

"Robust broadcaster participation is key to the success" of the so-called incentive auction, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement.  "Today’s announcement reflects the voluntary decision by many broadcasters that this auction truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

The auction will lead to "vast economic and consumer benefits," Wheeler added.

Mobile trade group CTIA applauded the amount of spectrum that will be available. The trade group is "is encouraged to see so much interest in the FCC’s incentive auction, which will play a critical role in making spectrum available for 4G LTE and 5G technologies," CTIA President and CEO Meredith Attwell Baker said in a statement,

The reverse auction phase of the auction, in which TV stations will solicit bids for their available spectrum, begins May 31.

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