Get your paddles ready, auction buffs -- the electromagnetic equivalent of beachfront property will be up for bidding next month. The Federal Communications Commission is hoping to rake in at least $15 billion from a whole host of players for the rights to coveted wireless airwaves.
A total of 266 entities have filed to participate in the auction, giving you a range of possibilities for your next wireless services provider. A few of the usual incumbents are there, including AT&T (NYSE: T ) , which is always good for dropping a few billion here or there. Search heavyweight Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) also made good on its promise to try to find new distribution channels for its advertisements and applications.
Even technology licensor and chip maker Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM ) has its hat in the ring. But why would Qualcomm want a license to provide services?
It's a good question. Several on the list of potential bidders are not known for offering wireless services, including Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) co-founder Paul Allen and even Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) . But Qualcomm has a lot of experience running networks -- it started what has become Leap Wireless (NYSE: LEAP ) today and built the mobile TV network behind Verizon's Vcast service.
Qualcomm may have designs on operating a super-broadband network using its own technology, bolstered by its acquisition of Flarion in 2005. With "open access" requirements put on a good portion of the spectrum offered, the company may also consider this an alternative to the WiMAX platform being pushed by Intel (Nasdaq: INTC ) , Sprint Nextel, and Clearwire.
Whoever ends up with spectrum, consumers should see some great new broadband wireless services in a few years. Thanks to physics, the 700-megahertz frequencies being offered will provide better signals indoors, and it will be cheaper and quicker to build out the network. The better efficiency should help spread services deeper into rural markets, and the increased competition will also bring prices down even more.
With the new opportunities, investors should keep tabs on who comes away with licenses: There may be some great growth stories in the next few months.
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