AT&T spent nearly $18.2 billion on wireless spectrum licenses in a blockbuster mobile-auction spectrum for licenses across the U.S., far outspending the other major U.S. carriers and satellite service provider Dish Network.
The AWS-3 auction, the biggest sale of mobile spectrum since 2008, went on for about two and a half months and brought in a far higher total than expected.
The auction raised $41.3 billion in net bids, which will go toward the FirstNet national public-safety network and some national debt reduction. The bidding on 1,611 spectrum licenses around the U.S. far exceeded expectations, indicating that mobile operators are still eager to build up capacity in their networks.
The three bands of AWS-3 spectrum, totaling 65MHz, will let mobile operators add more capacity to their LTE networks, serving more subscribers with faster service. AT&T said the licenses it acquired would give it a block of spectrum covering 96 percent of the U.S. population, which the carrier plans to deploy starting around 2017.
Verizon Wireless was the second-biggest bidder, laying out $10.4 billion, and T-Mobile USA, the nation's fourth-largest mobile operator, bid $1.8 billion. They're key rivals to AT&T for LTE services. But the motives of the second-place bidder, Dish Network, are less clear. Through affiliate companies, Dish bid a total of about $10 billion even though it doesn't yet operate a mobile service. Some analysts suspect the company hopes to either partner with an existing carrier or just lease the spectrum to other operators.
On Thursday, the FCC announced the auction had brought in provisional bids of $44.9 billion. The net amount disclosed on Friday accounts for factors such as bidding credits to some types of bidders.