A tricky thing that carriers need to keep in mind while building out their spectrum of signal, especially now that 5G is expanding further and further, is that the radio spectrum is pretty heavily regulated. In order for a carrier to use a specific frequency spectrum, it needs to obtain the right to use it, either by buying it from another company that has the rights already or by earning it through a spectrum action.
Some legal shenanigans were keeping the FCC from granting licenses to some spectrum recently, but now, that’s being solved.
First, some context. The FCC has had authority to issue licenses to use spectrum in the US for decades, and has held hundreds of spectrum auctions up until this date. At one point, however, the FCC’s authority to hold auctions and issue licenses expired, and suddenly, it couldn’t issue any more licenses.
This was particularly problematic, not just because they couldn’t hold any more spectrum auctions, but because they also couldn’t actually issue licenses that were previously won in an auction, in this case by T-Mobile, over a year ago.
Now, though, the 5G SALE Act was passed by both Congress chambers and was signed into law by President Biden. What this is is a stopgap authorization — it doesn’t bring back the FCC’s ability to auction spectrum, but it authorizes the commission to grant the licenses for the previously auctioned spectrum.
Auction 108 was won by T-Mobile and the spectrum granted in this auction will greatly help the carrier further build out its 5G spectrum all across the country, especially in rural areas. It’s a huge win for the company, and will further widen their coverage and capacity lead going into 2024, including for Home Internet services. You can see just how much spectrum was granted using this handy interactive map.
We’ll have to wait and see when this spectrum will actually go live, though. The FCC has until around March to review and finalize the purchase. It’s possible T-Mobile will simply have to flip a switch to enable the new frequencies around the country, in which case coverage and capacity could easily skyrocket overnight.