On September 13th , the FCC announced its first major auction of new mobile spectrum licenses since the 2008 blockbuster auction of licenses in the 700 MHz band. The elegantly labeled “H Block” auction – 10 MHz consisting of 1915-1920 MHz paired with 1995-2000 MHz – is slated to start on January 14, 2014, the same day as the Canadian 700 MHz auction kicks off. Applications are due November 5, 2013 and upfront deposits by December 11, 2013. The lower frequency part of the H Block is part of the former center gap of the PCS spectrum range.

H Block is adjacent to the G Block held in the US by Sprint and which is now being deployed with LTE technology. While not yet on the 4G official band list, the H Block could become another extension to the PCS range for LTE as was done for the G Block, ultimately making it relatively easy for devices such as the iPhone to support it.

For the H Block auction, the FCC has determined to use the tried and true simultaneous multiple round ascending (SMRA) format, similar to the process used for the 2006 AWS auction, but with anonymous bidding. The FCC had originally proposed to use SMRA with hierarchical package bidding (HPB) – where the auctioneer defines one or more packages of licenses that compete with individual licenses. The HPB SMRA format had been used for the Upper C Block in the 2008 auction for 700 MHz licenses. A number of carriers were opposed to HPB arguing that it would disadvantage smaller carriers and that they likely would not participate in such an auction. In final analysis, the FCC decided to go back to conventional SMRA, but with anonymous bidding. There will be an aggregate reserve price for all of the 176 H Block licenses on offer of $1.564 billion.

The H Block auction will tee up two more auction processes to come in the US. There will be new AWS spectrum – 1755-1780 MHz paired with 2155-2180 MHz, contiguous with the existing AWS licenses issued in 2006 – slated for auction in September 2014. And the widely anticipated Broadcast Incentive Auction – 600 MHz – will take place at some point over the next two years, adding to the availability of lower frequency licenses. The three auctions will add significantly to the amount of spectrum capacity licensed to mobile carriers.