4G spectrum auction (but not the big one) starts with $3.4B in bids

The first major U.S. spectrum auction since 2008 got underway on Thursday as carriers across the country looked to add to their 4G spectrum holdings. In five rounds as of this morning carriers submitted bids totaling $3.4 billion.

While you may have been reading a lot lately about the FCC’s broadcast spectrum auction, this is not that auction. That controversial undertaking has been postponed until 2016, and if the Federal Communications Commission can pull it off, we’ll see the mass relocation of TV stations out of the 600MHz UHF band where operators’ next generation mobile broadband networks will take up residence. (You can almost think of it as carrier gentrification, for both its negative and positive connotations).

The current auction though is selling off 65 MHz nationwide in the Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) band, which [company]Verizon[/company], [company]AT&T[/company] and [company]T-Mobile[/company] already use for LTE. Consequently all three of those carriers are among the 70 bidders, as is [company]Dish Network[/company], which owns nearby airwaves. As you might expect, the fiercest competition is for licenses in the most heavily populated markets, especially New York City and Los Angeles.

We’re probably still dozens of rounds and weeks away from a conclusion, and in fact total bids so far are only 31 percent of the auction’s minimum reserve price.