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AT&T, Dish Network and T-Mobile were the big winners at the most recent auction of 5G spectrum in the US.

The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) sale of mid-range 3.45GHz licences raised $22 million for the US government, making it one of the highest-grossing auctions of spectrum ever in the country.

AT&T will pay $91 billon, Dish $7.3 billion, and T-Mobile $2.9 billion. Verizon Wireless was conspicuous by its absence from the process.  

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While major communications providers were the biggest spenders, licenses for a range of categories were up for grabs. The FCC said it was pleased at the substantial increase in the number of winning bids per market and noted that 13 of the 33 winners classified as small businesses or those that served rural communities.

The regulator said this diversity would ensure the US would maintain its position as a leader in 5G.

“Today’s 3.45 GHz auction results demonstrate that the Commission’s pivot to mid-band spectrum for 5G was the right move,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I am pleased to see that this auction also is creating opportunities for a wider variety of competitors, including small businesses and rural service providers. This is a direct result of the Commission’s efforts to structure this auction with diversity and competition front of mind.

“Enabling commercial use of this spectrum is important to America’s continuing economic recovery and 5G leadership, and I look forward to the continued collaboration between the FCC, NTIA, and other federal agencies to find innovative ways to make spectrum available for next generation commercial and government services.”

Mid-range spectrum offers a compromise between the range and indoor penetration characteristics of low-range airwaves and the huge capacity offered by high-band frequencies. AT&T and Verizon Wireless won mid-range C-Band licenses at an auction last year that raised $80 billion for the American government and are preparing an imminent launch of services in the coming weeks.

However, C-Band 5G has proved controversial in the US with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) fearing that it could interfere with sensitive aircraft equipment. The mobile industry has refuted these claims.

The FCC said the arrangements for the latest release of airwaves would enable “robust commercial use” without the risk of interfering with existing use cases.