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Ofcom Clears 6 UK Mobile Operators to Bid on 4G and 5G Spectrum

Tuesday, February 27th, 2018 (7:41 am) - Score 2,781

The national telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today approved six telecoms operators’ to take part in the forthcoming auction of 4G and 5G friendly radio spectrum, which will see 40MHz of frequency in the 2.3GHz band and 150MHz in the 3.4GHz band being distributed.

The auction will also impose a cap of 255MHz on the “immediately useable” spectrum frequency and a cap of 340MHz on the overall amount that a single operator can hold (equivalent to a total cap of about 37%), which will prevent EE (BT) from being able to bid on the 2.3GHz band (i.e. because they already have around 42% of all available mobile spectrum) but not 3.4GHz.

The 3.4GHz band is considered to be vitally important for the future launch of “very fast” 5G based Mobile Broadband services and as a result Ofcom doesn’t wish to stop EE from bidding. Rival operator Three UK had attempted to disrupt this by calling for a much more aggressive 30% cap but their final legal challenge has been flatly rejected by the Court of Appeal (here).

The Qualified Applicants
* Airspan Spectrum Holdings Limited
* EE Limited (BT)
* Connexin Limited
* Hutchison 3G UK Limited (Three UK)
* Telefónica UK Limited (O2)
* Vodafone Limited

Overall there aren’t too many surprises above, although it’s interesting to see fixed wireless broadband ISP Connexin take part (they mostly focus upon Hull and Lincolnshire). Meanwhile Airspan Spectrum Holdings, which is a UK-based subsidiary of US-based vendor Airspan, recently gobbled a good chunk of spectrum as part of the Irish auction for the 3.5GHz and 3.7GHz bands (i.e. they should be taken seriously, despite being a newcomer).

Apparently the qualified applicants now have just three days to confirm whether they wish to take part or not, although in reality this is almost certain to be the final list of bidders.

Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s Spectrum Group Director, said:

“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.”

One of the biggest question marks over this auction will be whether or not Three UK’s parent (Hutchison 3G UK) finally makes a move to grab a good chunk of spectrum. They’ve had plenty of opportunities in the past but haven’t always chosen to buy as much spectrum as they could, which is despite the fact that they have some of the most data hungry customers who would benefit from extra frequency.

On the other hand Three UK’s purchase of 5G friendly spectrum via their £250m acquisition of UK Broadband Ltd. and sibling Relish Wireless (here) does already give them something to play with, although we’re still waiting to see precisely how they intend to use it.

Likewise O2 is another operator that would benefit from grabbing a good chunk of spectrum, even if only to make them look more attractive to a prospective buyer. Spanish parent Telefonica has been trying to cut loose of O2 UK for the past few years as it seeks to tackle rising debts.

The auction itself is now expected to start around March/April.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
2 Responses
  1. NE555 says:

    “Airspan Spectrum Holdings Limited” – sounds like it performs the same role as touts who buy up tickets as soon as they become available then resell on StubHub 🙁

    1. Airspan make small cells in the main, I assume they are looking to get spectrum to be able to do infill coverage in buildings

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