Verizon and AT&T just spent almost $70 billion on spectrum to improve their 5G networks

The much-anticipated results of the FCC’s Auction 107 are in, with Verizon and AT&T spending big as anticipated on the coveted C-band spectrum. Verizon in particular spent nearly twice as much as AT&T, with a total spend of $45.4 billion. AT&T’s total bid adds up to $23.4 billion. T-Mobile is in a distant third at $9.3 billion, which was also expected thanks to the strong midband spectrum holdings that the company already had following its acquisition of Sprint.

There’s nothing outright surprising here: we’ve known for a while that the total bidding added up to over $80 billion, and that Verizon and AT&T in particular would be the top bidders. Those two carriers’ nationwide 5G networks currently rely on narrower low-band frequencies that offer speeds not much greater than 4G LTE — and extremely fast millimeter wave frequencies that face significant coverage challenges. If there’s any surprise here, it’s just how much more Verizon spent than AT&T.

What remains to be seen is if the new spectrum will help either carrier catch up to T-Mobile. Some analysts don’t think it will. In any case, the new frequencies won’t become available until the end of the year at the earliest, and even then, they will be available in limited locations first.