Spectrum allocations peaked in 2021, with $140.1 billion in spectrum either auctioned or assigned
The United States C-Band continues to hold the record for the most expensive spectrum in the overall landscape, according to a new spectrum pricing report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association. But on a global basis, operators are actually paying a higher average price per MHz/POP for low-band spectrum than for their midband holdings.
The value of spectrum allocations peaked in 2021 at $140.1 billion, according to the report. Over the past several years, the value of spectrum auctioned or assigned was:
-2020: $37.7 billion
-2021: $140.1 billion
-2022: $26.6 billion
-So far in 2023: $427 million
The GSA has been tracking assignment of midband spectrum for mobile broadband and 5G use since 2015, and says that 59 countries and territories have auctioned, assigned or renewed midband licenses during that time. Among those, the U.S.’ midband auctions occupy three of the top five spots in terms of most expensive prices per megahertz/POP: The U.S. C-Band auction was the most expensive, followed by Taiwan’s auction, then the auction of 3.45-3.55 GHz in the U.S.; Italy’s midband auction; which is trailed by the U.S. CBRS Priority Access License auction.
The GSA puts the recent average price of midband spectrum at $0.118 per MHz/POP. Comparatively, it pegs the record high price of U.S. C-Band spectrum at $0.875 per MHz/POP (using United Nations 2020 data for population estimates rather than 2010 FCC population data). In contrast, millimeter-wave spectrum that has thus far been allocated are much lower, around $0.01 per MHz/POP even in the United States.
But perhaps surprisingly, while midband spectrum may be considered the “goldilocks” range for 5G, operators are actually paying a premium for low-band airwaves at 700 MHz, the GSA report found. Despite the lower cost of mmWave spectrum, momentum on spectrum allocation has shifted from midband to low-band use of 5G with an emphasis on 700 MHz spectrum. Last year, a dozen countries parceled out 700 MHz spectrum, and the GSA reports that “many more” are expected to do so this year.
Recent 700 MHz assignments (since 2015) have resulted in an average cost of $0.298 per MHz/POP, “significantly above the average C-Band price,” the report concludes. While some 700 MHz auctions have resulted in below-average prices, in India, the licensing of its 700 MHz spectrum to a single bidder achieved a price of $0.380 per MHz/pop, “making the 700 MHz band the highest valued of all the recent auctioned spectrum [there],” according to the report.