(Bloomberg) -- Canadian wireless companies spent about C$2.2 billion ($1.6 billion) in a sale of wireless-spectrum licenses, significantly less than analysts had forecast, as the sector grapples with high levels of debt. 

Most of the spending was done by the three companies that dominate the industry. Telus Corp. spent the most at C$620 million, followed by BCE Inc. at C$518 million and Rogers Communications Inc. at C$475 million. 

The big wireless companies stunned investors two years ago by collectively spending C$8.9 billion in a sale of wireless licenses to build out 5G services. This time, there was more spectrum available and a different set of auction rules, which “allowed for far more discipline and subdued bidding” during the three-week auction, National Bank of Canada analyst Adam Shine said in a note. 

Shine had estimated the industry would spend at least C$3.1 billion in the auction of 3800 megahertz spectrum. BMO Capital Markets analyst Tim Casey had forecast spending of C$4 billion to C$4.5 billion, and some other analysts were even higher. 

Rogers, Canada’s largest wireless provider by number of subscribers, has taken on higher leverage with the acquisition of rival Shaw Communications Inc. earlier this year. BCE, the country’s biggest telecommunications provider, has piled on significant amounts of new debt in recent years to spend heavily on building faster fiber-optic networks for home and business services. The company’s interest expense was up 30% in the first nine months of the year, to C$1.08 billion. 

Rogers shares rose 2.3%, while Telus was up 2.4% and BCE gained 0.9% as of 11:06 a.m. in Toronto. An index of Canadian telecom shares is down about 7% so far this year. 

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