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Verizon leads 5G airwave bidding with record $45 billion splurge

February 24, 2021, 11:00 PM UTC

Verizon committed $45 billion for 5G wireless airwaves in a government auction that attracted record bidding as the largest U.S. mobile carriers race to build faster networks.

At $23 billion, AT&T was the second-highest bidder, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which ran the auction. Participants also included T-Mobile and pay-TV providers such as Dish, Comcast and Charter. Some have already tapped the debt market to help pay the tab. The auction started in December, and within days the tally exceeded analysts’ estimates of $47 billion before settling at $81.2 billion.

T-Mobile rose as much as 4.9% to $125.28 in after-hours trading Wednesday. Verizon and AT&T were little changed.

The budget-stretching bidding underscores how crucial these so-called midband frequencies are to companies trying to seize global leadership in emerging 5G technology. The airwaves are prized for their combined ability to travel far and carry lots of data. They are expected to drive years of growth when deployed for next-generation mobile devices, autonomous vehicles, health-care equipment and manufacturing facilities.

With the backing of its controlling stockholder, Deutsche Telekom AG, T-Mobile spent $9.3 billion to build on an already-large holding of midband 2.5-gigahertz airwaves gained with the takeover of Sprint Corp. in April.

In addition to the airwaves licenses, winning bidders also will pay an estimated $13 billion or more to current users of the airwaves, including satellite providers Intelsat SA and SES SA. The satellite companies will move to different frequencies to make room for the 5G providers.