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Your Smartphone Connection May Speed Up Soon Thanks to the TV Industry

April 29, 2016, 7:40 PM UTC
Cellular tower at sunset
Photograph by Chris Gould — Getty Images

The government’s upcoming spectrum auction is intended to sell off airwave rights assigned to television broadcasters that they no longer need. Later this year, the spare frequencies will be sold to mobile phone carriers, whose current spectrum rights are nearly overwhelmed in some major metro areas, slowing consumers smartphone connections to a crawl.

On Friday, the carriers got good news from the Federal Communications Commission, which is running the auction for bands in the desirable 600 MHz frequency. During the initial phase, TV broadcasters voluntarily decided to put up huge amounts of their rights, enough to create 10 new licenses of 10 MHz each on a near-nationwide basis, the FCC said. The TV broadcasters weren’t just motivated by good intentions—they stand to collect billions of dollars from the buyers in the next phase of the auction.

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Some 104 entities have filed to bid for the rights, ranging from AT&T (T), Verizon Communications (VZ), and T-Mobile (TMUS) to several dozen individuals. Other names include Dish Network (DISH), Comcast (CMCSA), and upstarts like the VC firm Social Capital.

Sprint (S), however, is sitting out.

“The wireless industry has said it needs additional spectrum to meet growing customer demand and usher in the age of 5G,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “The broadcasters have stepped up and done their part to fulfill that demand. I look forward to a robustly competitive auction and the vast economic and consumer benefits that await.”

Analysts estimate the auction could raise more than $30 billion, an impressive sum but less than the $45 billion the FCC collected last year in a similar sale.