The FCC's 600MHz spectrum auction, which will see low-band spectrum that can pierce buildings fairly well and travel very far being auctioned off, is happening in stages. The first stage is a "reverse auction", where current spectrum holders are asked about prices that would convince them to part with their holdings. After that, the forward auction will happen, where bidders will look at the results of the reverse auction and state how much they're willing to spend. Once ceilings are established and the reserves set forth in the reverse auction are met, the auction will properly begin and companies will start bidding on spectrum. According to a report dug up by BTIG Research, the reverse portion could end as soon as this week.
Reports indicate that the FCC has gathered all of the data it needs for the reverse auction and, once the figures are finalized and presented to spectrum holders and relevant authorities for approval, they will be ready to present the reserve amounts to potential bidders. Since the reverse portion of the auction could have entailed spectrum holders dropping out when prices got too low, the FCC's reveal on an auction total for the forward portion would be the first peek behind the curtain for industry followers who want to know just how much 600MHz spectrum is up for grabs and in what areas. Additionally, the figure will give a somewhat good idea of how the forward auction will go; some of the top dogs who have set aside billions may well end up saving their money for some bands that work with their networks and leaving the smaller bidders to go after more valuable but less strategically viable bands, if prices are low.
In essence, this could make the difference between maintaining status quo in regards to spectrum holdings or seeing the script get flipped and some smaller carriers getting the spectrum they need for the kind of buildouts that customers want to see. While guesses at the final figure have been unpredictable, BTIG pegs the consensus among reporting authorities as about $30 billion, though it could easily end up much higher. The three major players in the auction will likely be T-Mobile, who wants the spectrum for the rural buildout their customers and potential customers have been clamoring for, AT&T, who wants the auction to improve network penetration in urban markets, and Verizon, who wants to use the spectrum for network densification and to ease congestion. Sprint, as previously announced, will be skipping the auction to build out a 5G network using their current low-band holdings and small cells.