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Winning Play in Spectrum Auctions


  • Jeremy Bulow
  • Jonathan Levin
  • Paul Milgrom


We describe factors that make bidding in large spectrum auctions complex -- including exposure and budget problems, the role of timing within an ascending auction, and the possibilities for price forecasting -- and how economic and game-theoretic analysis can assist bidders in overcoming these problems. We illustrate with the case of the FCC's Advanced Wireless Service auction, in which a new entrant, SpectrumCo, faced all these problems yet managed to purchase nationwide coverage at a discount of roughly a third relative to the prices paid by its incumbent competitors in the same auction, saving more than a billion dollars.

Suggested Citation

  • Jeremy Bulow & Jonathan Levin & Paul Milgrom, 2009. "Winning Play in Spectrum Auctions," NBER Working Papers 14765, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14765
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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. Paul Klemperer, 2002. "What Really Matters in Auction Design," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 16(1), pages 169-189, Winter.
    3. Gul, Faruk & Stacchetti, Ennio, 2000. "The English Auction with Differentiated Commodities," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 92(1), pages 66-95, May.
    4. Christopher Avery, 1998. "Strategic Jump Bidding in English Auctions," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 65(2), pages 185-210.
    5. Robert Day & Paul Milgrom, 2008. "Core-selecting package auctions," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 36(3), pages 393-407, March.
    6. Milgrom,Paul, 2004. "Putting Auction Theory to Work," Cambridge Books, Cambridge University Press, number 9780521536721, May.
    7. Zheng, Charles Z., 2012. "Jump bidding and overconcentration in decentralized simultaneous ascending auctions," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 76(2), pages 648-664.
    8. Michael H. Rothkopf, 2007. "Thirteen Reasons Why the Vickrey-Clarke-Groves Process Is Not Practical," Operations Research, INFORMS, vol. 55(2), pages 191-197, April.
    9. Peter Cramton & Yoav Shoham & Richard Steinberg, 2004. "Combinatorial Auctions," Papers of Peter Cramton 04mit, University of Maryland, Department of Economics - Peter Cramton, revised 2004.
    10. Robert W. Day & Peter Cramton, 2012. "Quadratic Core-Selecting Payment Rules for Combinatorial Auctions," Operations Research, INFORMS, vol. 60(3), pages 588-603, June.
    11. Peter Cramton & Yoav Shoham & Richard Steinberg (ed.), 2006. "Combinatorial Auctions," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262033429, January.
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    Cited by:

    1. Hu, Luke & Wolfstetter, Elmar G., 2014. "Spectrum license auctions with exit (and call) options: Alternative remedies for the exposure problem," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 27(C), pages 13-23.
    2. Le, Phuong, 2014. "Modified VCG Mechanisms in Combinatorial Auctions with Budget Constraints," MPRA Paper 66384, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. repec:the:publsh:2489 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. Burkett, Justin, 2016. "Optimally constraining a bidder using a simple budget," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society, vol. 11(1), January.
    5. Mölleryd, Bengt G. & Markendahl, Jan, 2014. "Analysis of spectrum auctions in India—An application of the opportunity cost approach to explain large variations in spectrum prices," Telecommunications Policy, Elsevier, vol. 38(3), pages 236-247.
    6. Matoso, Rafael & Rezende, Marcelo, 2014. "Asymmetric information in oil and gas lease auctions with a national company," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 72-82.
    7. Hu, Luke & Wolfstetter, Elmar G., 2012. "License auctions with exit (and entry) options: Alternative remedies for the exposure problem," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 394, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
    8. Lavi, Ron & Oren, Sigal, 2012. "Side-communication yields efficiency of ascending auctions: The two-items case," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 76(2), pages 439-456.
    9. repec:kap:expeco:v:20:y:2017:i:4:d:10.1007_s10683-017-9520-9 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Bichler, Martin & Goeree, Jacob K., 2017. "Frontiers in spectrum auction design," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 50(C), pages 372-391.
    11. Le, Phuong, 2015. "Mechanisms for Combinatorial Auctions with Budget Constraints," MPRA Paper 66292, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    12. Jonathan Levin & Andrzej (Andy) Skrzypacz, 2014. "Are Dynamic Vickrey Auctions Practical?: Properties of the Combinatorial Clock Auction," Discussion Papers 14-002, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    13. Bazelon, Coleman, 2009. "Too many goals: Problems with the 700Â MHz auction," Information Economics and Policy, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 115-127, June.
    14. Phuong Le, 2017. "Mechanisms for combinatorial auctions with budget constraints," Review of Economic Design, Springer;Society for Economic Design, vol. 21(1), pages 1-31, March.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D44 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Auctions
    • L21 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Business Objectives of the Firm

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