5G Wireless Spectrum Auction Nets Ottawa $3.5 Billion

The recently held 5G wireless spectrum auction netted Canada’s federal government $3.5 billion in revenue.

According to the Treasury Board in Ottawa, the federal government earned $3.47 billion from auctioning off 104 licences to Canada's wireless carriers, which are preparing for fifth-generation (5G) networks and related technology.

Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) spent the most money during the auction, paying $1.72 billion to acquire spectrum licences – making the company by far the biggest spender in an auction that pitted Canada's wireless companies against one another. Canada's three national wireless companies – Bell, Rogers and Telus (TSX:T) –were only allowed to bid on 64 of the available licences in this year's auction because of restrictions imposed by the federal Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development (ISED).

This year's auction, held in March, was for the 600 megahertz band of frequencies, which can cover large areas and easily penetrate buildings. A second auction is scheduled for next year and will be for 3,500 MHz licences, which are even more valuable because they're more widely used in 5G networks around the world.

With the money it spent, Rogers won 52 of the licences it was eligible to bid on, covering territorial blocks in southern and northern Ontario, northern Quebec, Atlantic Canada, Manitoba and the three Arctic territories.

Rival Telus Corp. spent $931.2 million for 12 licences, making it the second-biggest spender in the 600-megahertz auction. Freedom Mobile — which operates networks in Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario — spent nearly $492 million for 11 licences in its territories, making it the third-highest spender.

Quebecor Inc.'s Videotron — which operates in Quebec — spent $255.8 million. The rest of the licences went to smaller companies, including Bragg (Eastlink), TBayTel, SaskTel and Xplornet. BCE Inc.'s (TSX:BCE) Bell Canada — owner of one of the three national wireless businesses — said it decided not to acquire any of the available licences.

The Treasury Board said that the money from the auction will be added to the federal government's general revenue incrementally over the life of the licences —typically 20 years.