The Federal Communications Commission’s auction of frequencies considered critical for 5G development has ended, and the winners are clear. Not surprisingly, AT&T and Verizon outspent the competition by far: Verizon, through its Cellco Partnership, spent nearly $45.5 billion on the airwaves. AT&T, through AT&T Spectrum Frontiers, spent $23.4 billion.
The third-largest U.S. carrier, T-Mobile, bid the third-largest amount of money, a not insignificant $9.3 billion but far below the investments made by AT&T and Verizon.
“These record-breaking results highlight the demand and critical need for more licensed mid-band spectrum and demonstrate the importance of developing a robust spectrum auction pipeline,” said CTIA CEO Meredith Baker in a statement. Bidders are still under a quiet period, when they are not permitted to publicly comment.
The 280 megahertz spectrum, AKA midband spectrum, was so sought after by the big 5G operators because it is particularly well-suited for 5G networks. Midband spectrum is capable of providing incredible speeds, while also having the ability to penetrate long distances which is critical for coverage.
Here’s how the top five bidders break down by the number of licenses granted:
In advance of the Super Bowl, all 3 major US 5G carriers all improved their network in and around the stadium in Tampa, eager to show off their 5G networks to the fans and reporters in town for the game.
Testing results from Global Wireless Solutions (GWS) are now available, and impressively show that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon each exceeded 1 Gbps for peak 5G speeds. Tests used a Samsung Note 20 5G device were conducted at the Gameday Fan Plaza before the start of the game, and inside the stadium before, during and after the game.
Peak 5G speeds, per GWS, at Super Bowl LV versus Super Bowl LIV, as well as the comparison to 5G speeds seen by their testers in 2020:
AT&T: 1.71 Gbps in 2021 vs 878 Mbps in 2020 Verizon: 1.51 Gbps vs 924 Mbps in 2020 T-Mobile: 1.09 Gbps vs 175 Mbps in 2020
Those were the peak speeds, of course, with the average speeds being lower. AT&T managed average 5G throughputs of an impressive 1.26 Gbps, while Verizon’s 5G average stood at 432 Mbps, and T-Mobile at 388 Mbps.
As for the networks themselves, the carriers each have high-band millimeter wave spectrum deployed for 5G in at least some parts of Tampa and the Raymond James Stadium. Verizon invested $80 million in the area ahead of the Super Bowl, and AT&T invested $75 million including FirstNet upgrades. T-Mobile worked to deploy a mix of low, mid and high-band spectrum for 5G to maximize their 5G offering in the area. All of the upgrades and enhancements made by the carriers in Tampa will remain post-Super Bowl!
Pixel 5 and 4a 5G users got an added bonus with Google’s February security patch: support for T-Mobile Standalone (SA) 5G.
The first 5G networks launched by US carriers utilized the carriers’ existing LTE networks, a strategy which allowed for faster deployment but not true 5G. With the launch of standalone architecture (SA), 5G operates completely independently of LTE. One major benefit is that SA 5G signals can travel further, allowing for better indoor/building penetration. In its announcement enabling this network in August of 2020, T-Mobile says it “immediately increased its 5G footprint by 30 percent,” aiding latency and eventually providing better speeds.
Prior to this update, users could see that NSA was in use by going to Settings > About phone > SIM status > Mobile data network type.
After installing the February update, many users have connected to SA 5G where they would normally get NSA. This also extends to Google Fi, which leases service from T-Mobile.
AT&T and Verizon have both made upgrades to their 5G networks in Tampa in preparation for Super Bowl LV this Sunday, and now T-Mobile has confirmed they’ve done the same. T-Mobile already offered 5G in Tampa using low-band 600 MHz spectrum, but T-Mobile President of Technology Neville Ray confirmed that they have now added the 2.5GHz and 39GHz “layers” of the carrier’s 5G to Raymond James Stadium.
The Raymond James Stadium – where the Kansas City Chiefs are set to face off against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers – as well as the parking lot and surrounding areas, are now covered with T-Mobile’s mix of low-, mid-, and high-band spectrum.
Verizon Business announced its “Verizon 5G Business Report”, demonstrating the impact 5G is expected to have across the United States. Verizon’s research indicates that technology decision-makers see 5G as an important part of their company’s or industry’s growth in the coming years.
“Over the last year, 5G has become top-of-mind for businesses as they manage through condensed digital transformation timelines,” said Tami Erwin, CEO of Verizon Business. “Today’s findings underscore the critical role 5G will play in economic recovery and growth, and we stand committed and ready to help our partners make that transition quickly and seamlessly.”
73% of decision-makers polled said they already know which 5G applications will be most beneficial to their enterprises, seven in 10 believe that 5G technologies will help them accelerate their companies’ recovery from issues caused by the pandemic, and 80% agreed that 5G would provide new growth opportunities for their companies.
We’ve got another update on the 5G race for you today. Though it may have been slightly overlooked due to a recent Fios outage and competitors 5G announcement, Verizon has stated they’ll be doubling (almost) their mmWave 5G this year. To the existing 16,000 locations, Verizon will be rolling out this short range service in 14,000 more locations. At this time, obtaining a signal will be much like trying to catch a hummingbird. If you can grab it, it can provide you beautifully quick speeds to watch that 4K hummingbird special without any buffering or lag. Still, as much as Verizon is doing, OpenSignal tests reveal T-Mobile seems to be keeping the race at neck and neck.
More UScellular customers in western North Carolina and parts of Tennesse can now access 5G. The new coverage includes much of Haywood County, which joins 50+ other areas in the region that already had 5G, including Buncombe, Cherokee, Clay, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Swain, Transylvania, and Yancey counties.
The multi-year network expansion for 5G in western North Carolina is a result of previous network investments to modernize equipment and software. US Cellular has a growing portfolio of 5G smartphones from Apple, LG, and Samsung, connected devices and IoT solutions with a range of price points for 5G customers.
“UScellular customers in western North Carolina will have access to even faster data connection speeds for a better experience on city streets, country roads and in their homes,” said Nathan Waddell, director of sales for UScellular in western North Carolina. “We encourage our new and current customers to check out the growing number of 5G smartphones and connected devices in our portfolio, so they can benefit as we expand our 5G network.”
The latest Speedtest Global Index from Ookla report shows AT&T as the winner in 5G speeds. Per the report, average mobile download speeds overall improved significantly at the end of 2020, going from an average of about 47.13 Mbps in September to 67.33 Mbps in December. AT&T dominated in both 4G and 5G, with an Ookla Speedtest Speed Score of 50.27 – about three points higher than T-Mobile and nearly 10 points higher than fourth-place Verizon. Sprint placed third, a point ahead of Verizon (Sprint and T-Mobile are still being reported separately until the merger is fully complete).
After dramatic expansions by all the major carriers in 2020, 5G covered three quarters of the U.S. population as of January 1, 2021, with about 8% of mobile devices being 5G-capable. These numbers are expected to grow to 80% and 12%, respectively, by summer of this year.
Samsung has announced its new Galaxy S21 family of Android phones, all of which support 5G: the Galaxy S21, the Galaxy S21+ and the Galaxy S21 Ultra.
The Galaxy S21 will start at $799.99, the Galaxy S21+ starts at $999.99, and the Galaxy S21 Ultra starts at $1,199.99. All of the S21 family is available for preorder now, with the official release date set for January 29.
In addition to supporting 5G, the S21 family are the first devices powered by Qualcomm’s new flagship Snapdragon 888 processor. Samsung is also promoting the S21 series’ superior screens, improved battery life and better cameras versus last year’s Galaxy S20 phones.
The Federal Communications Commission’s auction for spectrum licenses on the C-Band, a mid-band spectrum between 3.7 and 4GHz, is reaching its end, and AT&T is looking to borrow $14 billion to finance its desired spectrum acquisitions. Bloomerg reports that Bank of America is leading the transaction, which is likely to be a 364-day delayed-draw term loan, with commitments due on January 2.
Experts agree that mid-band frequencies are critical for 5G usability, since they can provide both improved speeds vs 4G LTE while also providing better coverage than the superfast but extremely limited millimeter wave bands used by Verizon and AT&T. As of round 83 of the auction today, gross proceeds reached $80.86 billion, not including accelerated clearing payments and relocation costs to be paid by winners, which are estimated at $9.7 billion and $3.3 billion.
The winners of the auction won’t be known until later, but last week equity research firm Cowen estimated Verizon’s auction spend at $35 billion, AT&T at $20 billion and T-Mobile between $10-$15 billion. AT&T and Verizon are considered to be in the greatest need for this spectrum to allow them to better compete with T-Mobile.
“If T-Mobile spends less than we expect, Verizon or AT&T will likely account for the shortfall,” wrote New Street analyst Jonathan Chaplin in a note to investors Monday. “Neither company has the cash on hand to cover what we expect them to spend in the auction at present; we would expect more debt issuance for the group in coming weeks.”