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Social Capital's Chamath Palihapitiya Confirms Bidding in Upcoming Spectrum Auction

Palihapitiya indicated in an interview last year that he was preparing to bid as part of an effort to take on the established carriers.

Brian Ach / Getty Images Entertainment

Chamath Palihapitiya is following through on his pledge to launch an upstart bid in the upcoming spectrum auction as part of an effort to take on established wireless carriers.

The government licenses various chunks of spectrum, or airwaves, to cellular providers that need that bandwidth to deliver service in a particular region.

A representative of Palihapitiya’s venture firm, Social Capital, confirmed that the company filed with the Federal Communications Commission to bid in the auction, but did not offer further details. Social Capital is backing Rama, which is the entity that would do the bidding, while another Social Capital-backed entity, LotusFlare, has software to manage and organize a network. Both LotusFlare and Rama have initially been working in emerging markets. Rama has 10 megahertz worth of spectrum in Sri Lanka and has been negotiating deals elsewhere.

Palihapitiya first indicated his interest in bidding during a November onstage interview with Re/code’s Ina Fried. BTIG analyst Walt Piecyk tweeted earlier Tuesday that Social Capital was bidding in the auction.

Many established players are expected to take part in the auction, with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile all seen as likely bidders, as is Comcast*. Google is seen as something of a wild card, while Sprint has said it will sit out the auction.

Back in November, Rama was just a half dozen people and a big ambition.

“It’s not a lot of people; it’s more a lot of cash,” Palihapitiya said in November. Social Capital was investing a lot, he said, promising there were other big-name investors whom he declined to name.

And the airwaves are just part of what any company needs in order to get into the business of offering wireless service. If Rama can win in the auctions — something he expects could cost between $4 billion and $10 billion — Palihapitiya said the company can then go about building a network and operations to rival the big carriers.

* Comcast owns NBCU, an investor in Re/code parent company Vox Media.

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