UK completes 5G spectrum auction following two-month delay

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British telecoms regulator Ofcom has completed its 5G spectrum auction following a two-month delay.

The spectrum auction was initially scheduled to take place in January but was pushed back amid another wave of COVID-19.

“The auction and subsequent release of spectrum remain central to the future rollout of mobile networks and 5G. The economy’s recovery from COVID-19 is dependent on resilient digital infrastructure and we urge Ofcom to resist any further requests for delays,” a spokesperson for EE-owner BT said at the time.

Fortunately, no further delays were deemed necessary and Ofcom announced the results of the auction today.

A total of 200 MHz of spectrum was auctioned across two bands:

  • 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. This band is suited for covering wide areas, such as in the countryside.
  • 120 MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8 GHz band. These airwaves are ideal for urban deployments, helping to boost mobile data capacity in areas with a large number of connections.

Philip Marnick, Group Director of Spectrum at Ofcom, said: “With bidding in the principal stage concluded, we now move to the next stage of the auction where the operators will have an opportunity to negotiate the position of their spectrum holdings in the wider band. This is an important step forward in bringing better mobile services to people – wherever they live, work and travel.

“These airwaves will help improve coverage for the mobile services people use today, as well as supporting the UK’s position as a world leader in 5G.”

All four major operators – EE, Three, O2, and Vodafone – took part in the auction.

  • EE won 2×10 MHz of paired frequency spectrum in the 700 MHz band at a cost of £280,000,000; 20 MHz of supplementary downlink spectrum in the 700 MHz band at a cost of £4,000,000; and 40 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band at a cost of £168,000,000.
  • Three won 2×10 MHz of paired frequency spectrum in the 700 MHz band at a cost of £280,000,000.

Kester Mann, Director of Consumer and Connectivity at CCS Insight, commented: “Winning prized 700 MHz spectrum was particularly important to EE and Three. Both were lagging in low-band frequencies, which are best-suited to achieving wide-area, rural, and in-building coverage.”

  • O2 won 2×10 MHz of paired frequency spectrum in the 700 MHz band at a cost of £280,000,000; and 40 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band at a cost of £168,000,000.

“With the smallest holding coming into the auction, O2 will be pleased to scoop both low-band and mid-band spectrum. Its 33 percent increase in frequencies will be crucial to support the more than 35 million customers that use its network,” explains Mann.

  • Vodafone won 40 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band at a cost of £176,400,000.

Ahmed Essam, Chief Executive of Vodafone UK, said: “This auction will boost our 5G network capacity. It means we will have the spectrum we need to further the roll-out of 5G to our customers, bringing high-speed connectivity and opening up new opportunities for products and services.

“We have been successful in the 3.6 GHz band and have avoided expenditure on low band spectrum, where it is our strategy to refarm over time our significant 900 MHz holdings to carry 5G traffic.”

In total, the auction raised £1,356,400,000 for the HM Treasury.

Mann concludes: “The swift conclusion of the auction and the relatively modest overall spend is good news for UK 5G. The UK was fast out of the blocks with early 5G launches in 2019, but progress has been hindered by the government ban on Huawei.”

(Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash)

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