Ofcom unveils rules for new 5G spectrum auction due by 2020


UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has unveiled plans to auction two tranches of 5G spectrum by early 2020, building on its first 5G auction which was held earlier this year.

Ofcom said it will run auctions for spectrum in the 700MHz, 3.6GHz an 38GHz bands by early 2020, but will impose a limit on the amount of spectrum any single operator can hold.

The 700MHz band was previously used for digital terrestrial TV services will come attached with coverage obligations, which Ofcom has now published details of. Winning bidders would have to, within four years, extend good outdoor data coverage to at least 90% of the UK geographically. Winning bidders will also have to improve coverage for at least 140,000 homes and offices they do not cover, and provide coverage from at least 500 new mobile mast stations in rural areas.

“Mobile coverage has improved across the UK this year, but too many people and businesses are still struggling for a signal. We’re particularly concerned about mobile reception in rural areas,” said Ofcom spectrum group director Philip Marnick (pictured).

“As we release new airwaves for mobile, we’re planning rules that would extend good mobile coverage to where it’s needed. That will help ensure that rural communities have the kind of mobile coverage that people expect in towns and cities, reducing the digital divide.”

The UK regulator did offer a positive for operators, however, by acknowledging the high capex costs it takes to meet those coverage targets. As an olive branch, Ofcom agreed to discount spectrum carrying these rules by between £300-400 million.

Ofcom also unveiled plans to support spectrum sharing in order to boost coverage. This could include making spectrum available for shared use in the 1800MHz and 2300MHz bands, which can be used by existing mobile handsets.

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