Leading US cable television operators including Time Warner Cable and Comcast are considering a joint bid with Sprint Nextel, the third largest mobile carrier, for wireless spectrum in a high stakes auction set to attract bids from a wide swathe of media and telecoms companies.
Glenn Britt, chief executive of Time Warner Cable, said the companies, already part of a joint venture to develop wireless offerings for cable customers, would register their interest with the US Federal Communications Commission. They have ruled out separate, independent offers.
The cable companies? move signals the growing importance of mobile telephony in the mix of voice, video and data that both cable operators and their telecommunications rivals are seeking to offer customers as part of a services ?bundle?.
It also suggests bidding in next month?s FCC auction of 90Mhz of wireless spectrum suitable for 3G services will be fierce and attract attention not just from established wireless carriers, but also new entrants such as technology companies and satellite operators.
?The auction of a massive amount of spectrum in late June could alter the balance of power in the US wireless services industry ? now dominated by three or four companies,? said analysts at Lehman Brothers.
The filing on Wednesday by the cable consortium and Sprint Nextel does not commit the group to a bid in the auction on June 29, but is necessary for a chance to bid.
Other interested parties also needed to register by the end of the day.
Mr Britt said Time Warner would ?be very disciplined? about deciding whether to enter the spectrum auction. Other members of the consortium, which was formed with Sprint in November, include Cox Communications and Advance/Newhouse Communications.
The auction covers wireless airwaves across the US that can be used for both voice and advanced data services such as broadband wireless and mobile video services. Analysts have estimated that the sale, which could last weeks, could bring in between $8bn and $15bn.
While that figure would be far less than the sums raised in Europe through the 3G auctions at the end of the 1990s, it would be one of the biggest spectrum auctions ever in the US.
Among the likely bidders are Deutsche Telekom?s T-Mobile USA, the fourth largest US wireless carrier, which needs new spectrum in order to launch 3G services.
The auction could also attract bids from companies outside the traditional communications sector, such as Google and Microsoft. Some analysts have suggested such a move would make sense for internet companies seeking to ensure access to broadband delivery systems for their content.