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Bidders Line Up for Wireless Auction

Kim Hart

A wide variety of companies are taking their places along the starting line of the big federal auction of wireless airwaves that will start next month. Among the 96 potential bidders that have been approved to participate are some unlikely candidates, and many you've never heard of. The Federal Communications Commission released the list last night.

As expected, Google has applied to participate in the auction. A handful cable companies, such as Cox, and smaller Internet companies, such as XPressWeb, are planning to bid. Big phone companies have traditionally been the main players in spectrum auctions. But AT&T and Verizon Wireless, who are expected to square off against the newcomers, have to fix some paperwork glitches or provide more information before the FCC accepts their applications.

About 170 companies (list here), including Alltel, MetroPCS and Qualcomm, have until January 4 to finalize their applications and provide an upfront payment. On an auction expected to rake in close to $15 billion, the down payments will be pretty big chunks of change.

Top wireless carriers Sprint Nextel and T-Mobile were absent from the list of bidders, as were cable companies like Comcast that made a splash in the last spectrum auction.
Vulcan, the venture capital group led by Paul Allen, of Microsoft fame, is listed as a potential bidder. And several speculators also seem to have appeared: "James Bond" is listed.

The majority of attention has been given to the biggest players--Google, AT&T and Verizon Wireless--because of the heated lobbying battle that surrounded the FCC's rules requiring that the largest swath of spectrum be used to build a network open to any device or application. But most of the bit players listed by the FCC are going after smaller pieces of the airwaves to boost their services in certain cities or states. Many companies see this auction as the last chance to get their hands on premium airwaves that can be used to roll out wireless broadband services.

You can expect things to be pretty quiet until the auction starts January 24. FCC rules prohibit bidders from discussing their strategy with other participants. But speculation about the companies' intentions should heat up next month.

By Kim Hart  |  December 19, 2007; 10:25 AM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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