Tough competition for 5G bands in U.K. spectrum auction


The United Kingdom is in the midst of auctioning off 190 MHz of spectrum, mostly for 5G. The process, which began officially March 20, is expected to wrap up in the next few weeks. Competition for 5G-earmarked spectrum appears to be the stiffest.

The Office of Communications, more commonly known as Ofcom, originally invited six companies to participate: Airspan Spectrum Holdings Ltd., EE Ltd., Hutchinson 3G UK Ltd., Telefonica UK Ltd., Vodofone Ltd. and Connexin Ltd. However, Connexin unexpectedly dropped out days before the start with little explanation.

“Spectrum is a vital resource that fuels the UK’s economy,” said Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s Spectrum Group Director. “We’ve designed this auction to ensure that people and businesses continue to benefit from strong competition for mobile services.”

All told, 190 MHz of spectrum is up for grabs – 40 MHz in the 2.3 GHz band and 150 MHz in the 3.4 GHz band. The former will be compatible with current networks, while the latter has been earmarked for 5G. Combined, this represents an increase in UK network capacity of about one-third.

According to Ofcom, at the start of auctioning there was demand for 80 MHz and 320 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 and 3.4 GHz bands, respectively. Demand for the latter band has resulted in the price per 5 MHz lot exploding from just under 1.5 million pounds to nearly 40 million pounds, as of April 4; the price per 10 MHz lot in the 2.3 GHz band has stabilized at around 54 million pounds.

The proceedings will contain provisions to assuage concerns of monopoly. There will be a cap of 255 MHz on “immediately usable spectrum,” which prevents EE Ltd. from acquiring anything in the 2.3 GHz band. And an overall cap of 340 MHz will be applied, which would equate to about 37 percent of mobile spectrum in the UK in 2020.

Ofcom also plans to auction spectrum in the 700 MHz band in 2020, with that band being effective in both rural and heavily built up urban areas.

For daily updates, check Ofcom.



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