Ofcom unveils date for UK's 5G spectrum auction

13 March 2018 | James Pearce


UK telecoms regulator Ofcom will open bidding for spectrum bands seen as key to 5G deployments a week today, with six firms set to compete for the 2.3GHz band and 3.4GHz band licences.

Ofcom officesThe auction will see Ofcom tender up to 40MHz in the 2.3GHz spectrum band – spectrum that will be available immediately for use in 4G deployments – and up to 150MHz in the 3.5GHz band, which is viewed as a key band for 5G services.

The auction will begin on 20 March and is likely to run for several weeks. This follows a legal dispute with CK Hutchison’s UK arm Three and BT over rules the regulator had imposed on future auctions. Ofcom had originally said the auction would take place in April after the Court of Appeal in London rejected a bid by Three to force a 30% spectrum cap to be imposed on any bidder.

Both Three UK and BT (through mobile arm EE) were confirmed as bidders in the auction last week, along with Vodafone, Telefonica UK (O2) and two smaller players, Connexin Limited and Airspan Spectrum Holdings Limited.

Last month Ofcom set out its rules and timetable for the auction – warning at the time that the schedule might be disrupted by the appeal court.

Ofcom has imposed a total cap of 37% on how much any one operator may hold at the end of the auction, a move opposed by BT, which owns EE, today the largest spectrum holder with 45%. BT last year went to court to try to block any move for a cap, but lost its attempt in December.

At the same time the High Court told Three it was wrong to ask for a 30% cap – and that decision was held up by the February Court of Appeal decision.

Philip Marnick, Ofcom's spectrum group director, said last month: "We're pressing ahead with the auction to make these airwaves available as quickly as possible.

"This will benefit today's mobile users by providing more capacity for mobile broadband use. It will also pave the way for 5G, allowing operators to launch the next generation of mobile technology."

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