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Ofcom Reveal Initial UK 4G and 5G Mobile Spectrum Auction Winners

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 (10:57 am) - Score 2,769
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The UK telecoms regulator has today revealed the preliminary winners from their auction of the new 4G Mobile friendly 2.3GHz and future 5G destined 3.4GHz radio spectrum bands. All of the major mobile operators have won a slice and the total value of the principal stage is £1,355,744,000.

Both bands are being released in order to help boost the performance of 4G and future 5G based Mobile connectivity. In this regard the 3.4GHz band is highly prized because it’s aimed at future multi-Gigabit capable 5G services, which Ofcom says will be needed in order to help Mobile Network Operators (EE, O2, Vodafone and Three UK) to launch “very fast” Mobile Broadband services by 2020.

Overall some 40MHz of frequency in the 2.3GHz band (2350-2390MHz) and 150MHz in the 3.4GHz band (3410-3480MHz and 3500-3580MHz) is being distributed. Ofcom’s spectrum capping means that EE cannot bid on the 2.3GHz band that is immediately usable by operators, although everybody can bid on 3.4GHz due to its importance for 5G.

Results of the principal stage

— Airspan Spectrum Holdings Limited has not won spectrum in either band.

— EE Limited (BT) has won 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum at a cost of £302,592,000.

— Hutchison 3G UK Limited (Three UK) has won 20MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum at a cost of £151,296,000.

— Telefónica UK Limited (O2) has won all 40MHz of 2.3GHz spectrum available, at a cost of £205,896,000; and 40MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum at a cost of £317,720,000.

Vodafone Limited has won 50MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum at a cost of £378,240,000.

Most of the results won’t come as a surprise and we were expecting O2 to grab a large slice of spectrum, not least because debt laden Telefonica are keen to pump up the value of their UK brand ahead of a possible £10bn market listing or sale.

However it’s perhaps a little disappointing to see that Three UK’s parent has so far chosen not to spend big in order to acquire a larger chunk of spectrum, although they do already have quite a bit in the 3-4GHz range from their purchase of UK Broadband Ltd. (Relish Wireless).

Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom, said:

“This is good news for everyone who uses their mobile phone to access the internet. As a nation we’re using ever more mobile data on smartphones and mobile devices. Releasing these airwaves will make it quicker and easier to get online on the move. It will also allow companies to prepare for 5G mobile, paving the way for a range of smart, connected devices.”

UK Digital Minister, Margot James MP, said:

“This spectrum will be instrumental in further improving 4G mobile services now, while helping the UK to lead the 5G revolution and build a Britain that is fit for the future. We hope that it can now be deployed as soon as possible for the benefit of consumers right across the UK.”

Ofcom will now move to the ‘assignment’ stage, which is the last bidding stage of the auction. This is a short process, which allows companies who have won spectrum in the principal stage to bid to determine where in the frequency bands their new spectrum will be located.

After the end of the assignment stage, the regulator will issue the winning bidders with licences to use the relevant spectrum within a few days, allowing them to begin putting it to use. The final auction results will be known shortly after.

Neither of the new bands are expected to hugely improve the coverage of existing networks (this auction is more about service speed and capacity), particularly in rural areas, and for that we’ll have to wait another year or so until the 700MHz band is auctioned off.

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Mark Jackson
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.
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12 Responses
  1. Avatar Chris P

    any indication about how much 3-4ghz frequency three currently has and will have post auction?

    • Avatar Chris

      UKBL had 124mhz in B42/43 (3.5-3.6ghz) and additional in 3.9, 28 and 40 currently used for P2P microwave links. Possible 5G bands in the future

    • Avatar 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G)

      Three has 40MHz in 3.4-3.6GHz band, it has an additional 84MHz in the 3.6-3.8GHz band and another 84MHz in the 3.8-4.2GHz band. First 2 bands are 5G Pioneer bands, the upper band is being considered a 5G ‘shared’ candidate band in UK, US, China etc.

  2. Avatar Phil

    So almost £1.4 billion raised for selling fresh air. A nice earner for the treasury which we pay indirectly as customers of these services. Stealth tax anyone.

    • Avatar Pedant

      Is anyone forcing you to pay for mobile services? No. Is anyone forcing you to pay taxes? Yes.

      So i think that this is in effect a small tax increase (as it ends up in the Gov’s coffers either way), but at least it’s paid only by those who use it and in proportion to their income as those with lower incomes are likely to have lower mobile packages anyway.

      Quite fair as revenue raises/tax increases go IMO.

    • Avatar Phil


      I’m just pointing out this is a stealth tax. It is all published as a great result for OFCOM raising all this money for selling something they’ve most likely sold before, yet that money comes from us the consumer. We also suffer from less coverage as a country because mobile phone operators have to recoup that all that money as quickly as possible by targeting large towns and cities and missing out rural locations, until forced to by the same OFCOM who ends up paying money back to help fund it.

      Also low income families still have mobile phones, it’s a necessity these days in our modern world and if you are on a low income and zero hours contracts, you have to be contactable all the time, so a mobile is a must have so as not to miss work, I know that all too well. Low income families end up paying more quite often for little minutes and little data as they are on PAYG phones, which like pre-payment meters for electricity and gas, cost more than.

  3. Avatar Joe

    “and for that we’ll have to wait another year or so until the 700MHz band is auctioned off.”

    And that delay is due to…?

  4. Avatar Tim

    Hopefully O2 will soon be able to do LTE-A (LTE-Advanced / LTE+)

    • Avatar 3G Infinity (now 4G going on 5G)

      O2 have said the moment they get the physical 2.3GHz license they will use it in London and then other cities as they already have the radios installed and ready to go, also most new handsets eg S8/S9, iPhone8 have 2.3Ghz inside as a carrier aggregation band.

  5. Avatar Matthew Williams

    I’m kind of surprised Three didn’t try and get some 2.3GHz. Looks like O2 has put themselves in a better situation. Interesting Vodafone bid more than EE.

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