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700 MHz auction ends after 261 rounds

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Auction 73 came to a close this afternoon after 38 days when Round 261 failed to garner a single new bid. The auction raised $19.592 billion, but aside from the cash payout the FCC revealed few of the auctions results. The names of the winning bidders and the fate of the D-block shared public safety/commercial license haven't yet been revealed.

Though bidding has stopped, the auction won't officially end until the FCC decides what to do about the D block, which received a single bid of $472 million in the first round and saw no activity for the rest of the auction. While all of the other blocks met their reserve bids, the D block fell well short of its $1.3 billion threshold. The FCC hasn't been exactly clear of what would happen if that reserve was not met. In the case of the other spectrum blocks, failing to meet the reserve would have triggered and immediate re-auction of the licenses. The Commission, however, left its options open for D block.

Stifel Nicolaus analysts said in a research note that they expect the FCC to de-link the D block from the rest of the auction, allowing to reveal the winners of the remaining licenses. If that turned out to be the case, the FCC would probably name the winners within the next 10 days and lift the anti-collusion restrictions on the auction. That would allow the winners to wheel and deal with their new licenses as they see fit.

Probably the most anticipated results are those of the C block. Though bidding effectively ended on those licenses weeks ago, they were the most controversial licenses in the auction as they contained the FCC's first open-access provisions. As soon as the the C block reached its $4.6 billion reserve price, thus assuring open-access, bidding all but stopped. That led many to suspect that Google had bid the licenses up past the open-access threshold and then exited, ensuring that it would have access to the networks of the eventual winner--or winners. After several rounds of no activity, bidders for each of the C block's individual regional licenses split the nationwide chunk into 8 separate licenses, each of which could go to a different bidder.

Whoever the winners are, the industry is already debating their impact on the future of wireless technology in the U.S. If a majority of the large licenses are taken by company other than Verizon Wireless of AT&T--both of whom have committed to building Long Term Evolution networks--it could provide a massive boost to the WiMAX industry, which is targeting its 4G platform squarely at the spectrum. Vendors like Ericsson and Nokia Siemens Networks are already positioning their product lines to support the new band no matter what flavor of broadband the winners choose.

But the auction could have a sizable effect on companies not in the infrastructure business. According to iSuppli, the C-block open access requirements on the C-block would give Nokia a huge opportunity in the U.S. where its retail strategy has failed to catch-fire in the U.S.'s carrier-centered handset market. If Qualcomm wins more licenses it will build out its MediaFLO TV service and seek to convince other 700 MHz holders to license its technology. And if Google is a winner in the auction, no one is quite sure what it will do. Analysts have speculated Google could turn its network over to an outsourcing company and focus on services or lease the spectrum to a carrier partner.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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