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Wireless Carriers' Bidding Tops $36 Billion in FCC Auction For Airwaves

The battle to claim those precious bits of airwaves continues with the U.S. government already a winner.

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The bidding war continues for a precious chunk of mobile airwaves, with current prices in the auction to own rights to airwaves topping $36 billion.

Bidding had reached an already impressive $24 billion a week ago, with the additional bids showing just how important the spectrum is to wireless carriers.

Spectrum refers to the range of frequencies that wireless devices use. Certain chunks of these airwaves are set aside for different purposes, such as for TV broadcasts or cellular signals. Other blocks are left for unregulated use for things like Wi-Fi, baby monitors and cordless phones.

Since the airwaves are owned by the public, the Federal Communications Commission is tasked with managing auctions when new blocks are made available. This particular auction covers 65 megahertz of spectrum, carved into six different blocks as well as into geographic regions.

Some 32 rounds have now been completed after eight days of bidding in the auction, with the most recent one on Tuesday reaching $36.4 billion.

At this point the bidders are not made public, though most of the major cellular carriers are expected to be in on the hunt, eager for extra bandwidth to deliver wireless data service as smartphone use continues to rise.

The FCC doesn’t release the names of bidders or winners until after the auction has ended. The auction will continue until the bidding stops, which could be a couple more weeks still.

AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all qualified to bid in the auction, while competitor Sprint decided to sit this one out. Another wild-card bidder is Dish Network. There has been speculation that Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen wants to drive bidding prices up to help increase the value of the nearby airwaves licenses that Dish owns. Dish already holds a huge chunk of spectrum and could look to augment what it has, or just make the part it owns more valuable.

BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk said that AT&T and Verizon, the two major carriers, are likely among those most eager to get their hands on the auction spectrum.

As for the final price, Piecyk said it is “hard to predict but $40 billion appears within reach.”

The FCC wants to use a chunk of the proceeds — some $7 billion — to fund a wireless network for emergency responders, with the remainder going to reduce the federal deficit.

Amy Schatz contributed to this report.

This article originally appeared on

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