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Spectrum Auction Design


  • Peter Cramton



Spectrum auctions are used by governments to assign and price licenses for wireless communications. The standard approach is the simultaneous ascending auction, in which many related lots are auctioned simultaneously in a sequence of rounds. I analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the approach with examples from US spectrum auctions. I then present a variation-the combinatorial clock auction-which has been adopted by the UK and many other countries, which addresses many of the problems of the simultaneous ascending auction while building on its strengths. The combinatorial clock auction is a simple dynamic auction in which bidders bid on packages of lots. Most importantly, the auction allows alternative technologies that require the spectrum to be organized in different ways to compete in a technology-neutral auction. In addition, the pricing rule and information policy are carefully tailored to mitigate gaming behavior. An activity rule based on revealed preference promotes price and assignment discovery throughout the clock stage of the auction. Truthful bidding is encouraged, which simplifies bidding and improves efficiency. Experimental tests and early auctions confirm the advantages of the approach. Copyright Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Suggested Citation

  • Peter Cramton, 2013. "Spectrum Auction Design," Review of Industrial Organization, Springer;The Industrial Organization Society, vol. 42(2), pages 161-190, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:revind:v:42:y:2013:i:2:p:161-190
    DOI: 10.1007/s11151-013-9376-x

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Sandro Brusco & Giuseppe Lopomo, 2002. "Collusion via Signalling in Simultaneous Ascending Bid Auctions with Heterogeneous Objects, with and without Complementarities," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(2), pages 407-436.
    2. Kahn, Alfred E. & Cramton, Peter C. & Porter, Robert H. & Tabors, Richard D., 2001. "Uniform Pricing or Pay-as-Bid Pricing: A Dilemma for California and Beyond," The Electricity Journal, Elsevier, vol. 14(6), pages 70-79, July.
    3. Lawrence M. Ausubel & Peter Cramton & Marek Pycia & Marzena Rostek & Marek Weretka, 2014. "Demand Reduction and Inefficiency in Multi-Unit Auctions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 81(4), pages 1366-1400.
    4. Marco Pagnozzi, 2010. "Are Speculators Unwelcome in Multi-object Auctions?," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 2(2), pages 97-131, May.
    5. Aytek Erdil & Paul Klemperer, 2010. "A New Payment Rule for Core-Selecting Package Auctions," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(2-3), pages 537-547, 04-05.
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    Cited by:

    1. Aytek Erdil & Paul Klemperer, 2010. "A New Payment Rule for Core-Selecting Package Auctions," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(2-3), pages 537-547, 04-05.
    2. Todd R. Kaplan & Shmuel Zamir, 2014. "Advances in Auctions," Discussion Papers 1405, Exeter University, Department of Economics.
    3. repec:eee:indorg:v:53:y:2017:i:c:p:63-98 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Isa Hafalir & Hadi Yektaş, 2015. "Core deviation minimizing auctions," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 44(2), pages 367-376, May.
    5. Kaplan, Todd R. & Zamir, Shmuel, 2015. "Advances in Auctions," Handbook of Game Theory with Economic Applications, Elsevier.
    6. Sano, Ryuji, 2012. "Non-bidding equilibrium in an ascending core-selecting auction," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 74(2), pages 637-650.
    7. Jehiel, Philippe & Lamy, Laurent, 2016. "On the benefits of set-asides," CEPR Discussion Papers 11564, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    8. Harbord, David & Pagnozzi, Marco, 2014. "Britain's electricity capacity auctions: lessons from Colombia and New England," MPRA Paper 56224, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Janssen, Maarten & Karamychev, Vladimir, 2017. "Raising rivals’ cost in multi-unit auctions," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 473-490.
    10. Ron Lavi & Ella Segev, 2014. "Efficiency levels in sequential auctions with dynamic arrivals," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 43(4), pages 791-819, November.
    11. Vogelsang Ingo, 2013. "The Endgame of Telecommunications Policy? A Survey," Review of Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 64(3), pages 193-270, December.
    12. Bichler, Martin & Goeree, Jacob & Mayer, Stefan & Shabalin, Pasha, 2014. "Spectrum auction design: Simple auctions for complex sales," Telecommunications Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(7), pages 613-622.
    13. Kemal Guler & Martin Bichler & Ioannis Petrakis, 2016. "Ascending Combinatorial Auctions with Risk Averse Bidders," Group Decision and Negotiation, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 609-639, May.
    14. Janssen, Maarten & Karamychev, Vladimir, 2016. "Spiteful bidding and gaming in combinatorial clock auctions," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 100(C), pages 186-207.
    15. Sano, Ryuji, 2013. "Vickrey-reserve auctions and an equilibrium equivalence," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 65(2), pages 112-117.
    16. Gary Madden & Erik Bohlin & Paitoon Kraipornsak & Thien Tran, 2014. "The determinants of prices in the FCC's 700 MHz spectrum auction," Applied Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 46(17), pages 1953-1960, June.

    More about this item


    Auctions; Spectrum auctions; Market design; Package auction; Clock auction; Combinatorial auction; D44; C78; L96;

    JEL classification:

    • D44 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Auctions
    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • L96 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Transportation and Utilities - - - Telecommunications


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