5G spectrum sells for $4.6B so carriers can expand networks

The FCC awards more than 20,000 licenses for midband 3.5GHz spectrum.

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The FCC auctioned off more 5G spectrum for $4.6 billion.
Angela Lang/CNET

The FCC netted almost $4.6 billion after auctioning off 5G spectrum to US carriers. The midband 3.5GHz spectrum will "further the deployment of 5G," the FCC said Wednesday. More than 20,000 spectrum licenses were awarded, with the FCC to announce more details later this week. 

"This is a banner day for American leadership in 5G," FCC chair Ajit Pai said. 

The three major US carriers are using different radio waves for their 5G networks: Verizon uses high-band millimeter-wave 5G spectrum, which is limited to traveling short distances and being blocked by solid obstacles like buildings and trees, while AT&T uses 850MHz spectrum for its low-band 5G network. AT&T will also be employing a new technology called Dynamic Spectrum Sharing to share its 4G airwaves with 5G and improve performance this summer.

Read more: Verizon vs. AT&T vs. T-Mobile compared: How to pick the best 5G carrier for you

T-Mobile also uses low-band 600MHz spectrum -- which has better range but slower speeds -- but is now also integrating Sprint's midband 2.5GHz spectrum since the carrier's $26.5 billion merger with Sprint went through in April.

You can check out T-Mobile's 5G coverage maps hereAT&T's 5G maps here and Verizon's 5G coverage map here.