T-Mobile USA, a subsidiary of German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom, was by far the most aggressive bidder in the first round of the government's airwaves auction Wednesday.
In the morning round, the company committed $437.1 million of a $768.9 million bid, according to an AP analysis of early results. The company is bidding on licenses to use portions of the airwaves.
T-Mobile was expected to be an aggressive bidder because it does not have as much spectrum as its major competitors.
MetroPCS was a distant second in the first round. It bid $79.5 million, and third was SpectrumCo LLC, a consortium of cable television companies, which came in at $47.5 million.
For the first round, 731 bids were received on 469 licenses. Bids issued thus far may be topped by other bidders in later rounds.
A total of 168 bidders qualified for the auction, which may go on for weeks. A second round of bidding was scheduled for later Wednesday.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated in advance that the sale would raise between $10 billion and $15 billion for the U.S. Treasury. Already, it has brought in $4.3 billion from bidders who made payments to qualify to participate.
The auction will add badly needed capacity to the maturing cellular telephone market and allow for clearer connections and sharper pictures in addition to a host of new services.
Bidders are competing for the right to use portions of the radio spectrum — a publicly owned, extremely valuable highway in the sky that allows sound, data and pictures to be transmitted from one place to another.
The FCC, in addition to conducting the auction, is responsible for making sure spectrum licensees do not interfere with one another's signals and that they use the airwaves in the public interest.
Participants make bids via telephone and online.
A total of 1,122 licenses are up for bid, each valid for an initial term of 15 years. The licenses can then be renewed every 10 years.
To qualify to bid in the auction, bidders must provide money up front. The top qualifier is Wireless DBS LLC, an alliance that includes two competing direct broadcast satellite providers: EchoStar Communications Corp. and the DirecTV Group. The bidders paid $972.5 million.
Second was SpectrumCo, a consortium of Comcast Corp., Time Warner Inc., Sprint Nextel Corp., Cox Communications Inc. and Bright House Networks, with $637.7 million. Third was T-Mobile License LLC, at $583.5 million.
The auction is the most high profile since late 2000 and early 2001, when a spectrum sale attracted $16.9 billion in bids.