Bulgaria sets auction date following Vivacom challenge

18 March 2021 | Melanie Mingas

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Bulgaria is to hold a new auction for 5G licenses on 6 April, following a successful challenge in the courts by Vivacom.

Vivacom – which was purchased by United Group in 2019 – contested the original licence award plan announced by the Communication Regulation Commission (CRC), which intended to grant each of the country's three major operators a 3.6 GHz licence without competition after reviewing applications.

However, Vivacom's legal challenge had the potential to delay the overall rollout of next gen mobile tech in the country, likely by years.

On Monday, CRC said would work to speed up the award process and on Wednesday the auction was officially suspended. Now a new date has been announced, Vivacom, A1 and Telenor Bulgaria – owned by Czech investment group PPF – can prepare to bid for specific bands in the 3.6 GHz spectrum on 6 April.

"The regulator decided to amend its decision to speed up the process and avoid lengthy court proceedings,” CRC head Ivan Dimitrov told Reuters.

In October, Bulgaria blocked the use of Huawei and ZTE kit in its 5G network

What's the problem?

CRC decided to close the original 5G auction and grant each of the country’s three major telecoms operators a licence in the 3.6 GHz spectrum without competition after reviewing their applications for the process. CRC said that in doing this it had the backing of Bulgaria's three MNOs.

However, Vivacom said the best way to allocate 5G frequencies was through an auction, due to the competitive interest for a specific band of the spectrum.

Telenor Bulgaria and A1 – part of Austria’s A1 Group controlled by Mexico’s America Movil – said they were satisfied with the frequencies’ bands allocated to them. Vivacom's took its case to the courts and, to avoid a protracted legal process, CRC has now set a new date for its auction.

Reuters said the initial price of each permit for 20 years is set at US$2.43 million (4 million levs). Each company can get only one permit and the highest bidder will be given first choice from one of the three 100 MHz bands in the 3.6 GHz spectrum.