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Ofcom UK Delays Start of 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz 5G Auction

Monday, January 25th, 2021 (10:45 am) - Score 2,928
5g and mast uk tower microwave mmwave

The UK telecoms regulator has today confirmed that the new COVID-19 lockdown will delay the start of their auction for the 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz radio spectrum bands, which was previously due to start this month. The new bands should help to improve the coverage and speed of 5G mobile (mobile broadband) networks.

In a brief statement Ofcom said: “Throughout our planning for the auction we have been closely monitoring the coronavirus situation. Following a pause in the auction process, we are now planning for the principal stage of the auction (the start of bidding) to begin in March 2021. We will continue to monitor developments.

Overall, the regulator aims to auction off 80MHz of spectrum frequency in the 700MHz band and 120MHz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8GHz bands. The combination of these two will increase the total amount of airwaves available for mobile in the UK by nearly a fifth (18%), which means more capacity for even faster speeds and better coverage. Only the four primary mobile operators are signed-up to bid on these – EE (BT), Vodafone, O2 and Three UK.

However, a 37% (416MHz) cap is being imposed on the overall amount of spectrum that any one mobile company can hold following the auction, which effectively limits the spectrum that some operators can acquire in the award. As a result, BT will be limited to acquiring up to 120MHz, while Three UK can only acquire 185MHz, Vodafone may grab up to 190MHz and no limits will be imposed upon O2 due to their current holdings.

A BT Spokesperson told ISPreview.co.uk:

“We’re disappointed the auction will now be delayed although we understand the unique circumstances. The auction and subsequent release of spectrum remains central to the future rollout of mobile networks and 5G. The economy’s recovery from Covid-19 is dependent on resilient digital infrastructure and we urge Ofcom to resist any further requests for delays.”

We should point out that, excluding dynamic spectrum sharing in existing 4G bands, all of the major operators already have some 5G friendly spectrum. At present EE, Vodafone and O2 all have a 40MHz, 50MHz and 40MHz slice – respectively – of the 3.4GHz band, while Three UK holds 140MHz across several similar bands thanks to their previous £250m acquisition of UK Broadband Limited (this includes a 20MHz slice from the 3.4GHz auction).

UPDATE 11:48am

We’ve added a comment from BT above.

Leave a Comment
22 Responses
  1. Avatar Bill says:

    Hopefully, 02 chomps at the bit and buys up some spectrum here. One of the main reasons people are with them is their coverage. Hopefully, they were holding out till this auction. especially with the potential merger, they need fast speeds to fit with virgins brand image.

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Yes, I suspect that, even though Virgin Media hasn’t yet completed that merger, there will be pressure to ensure that O2 can build a competitive advantage in order to complement the future fixed line side.

  2. Avatar Zoomer says:

    whaaa does a telecom ombudsman not know how to use zoom ? hahahaha

    1. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      Yeah, but no ones got the spectrum to use it effectively. Oh the irony of that!

  3. Avatar Anthony Goodman says:

    Technical Question for those who know more than me. But given all the controversy around 5G and health issues. Why can they not just do away with 3G/4G/5G entirely and just ensure the whole country has FTTP installed and then offer free Wifi hotspots across the country. It would likely be cheaper and faster. It seems silly these days offering two competing formats that will ultimately do the same thing.

    1. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      There isn’t any controversy. just the usual uneducated Karen’s.

    2. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      I am going to oversimplify here, but Wi-Fi and Mobile networks are generally designed for different environments and use cases, although there is some overlap but there are also some very different standards involved and associated regulations/hardware.

      You also wouldn’t want the spectrum from a private home WiFi network to conflict with that of mobile. Messy. So we have different standards and kit for doing different things.

    3. Avatar Olly says:

      Surely it’s the other way around given that WiFi and microwave ovens run at the same frequency? We should get rid of WiFi and move everything to 5G.

      https://www.howtogeek.com/401215/why-does-wi-fi-use-the-same-frequency-as-microwaves/

    4. Avatar blueacid says:

      That’s basically what mobile networks are. The radio technologies in wifi and 2-thru-5 G are all near enough the same.
      Most mobile transmitters have a fibre line for backhaul (a few still have copper, and others may use microwave transmission to another mast).

      But that’s basically the same. The question you have asked is akin to “With all of this controversy about vaccinations, should we perhaps instead give people neutralised versions of a disease so their immune systems can learn how to fight them?”. Same thing.

    5. Avatar Phil says:

      Re Wi-Fi, well in many ways that was the promise of 5G, lots of small access points dotted about every 50 metres or so providing extra fast speeds, but unlikely to happen much now, seems to have been more a driver for PR then anything practical. It also fed into the paranoia of tin-foil hat wearing people who thought “dusk to dawn” light sensors on new LED street lamps were 5G antennas!

      Trouble is you need something that works over a large distance for more rural areas, and to do that you need licensed spectrum, i.e. tightly controlled and regulated. Wi-Fi is unlicensed meaning people can do more or less what they want. It wouldn’t go down well if EE put up a powerful mast using Wi-Fi on 2.4GHz to cover a radius of say 10 miles that then stops every Wi-Fi access point in hundreds of thousands of homes from working because they are drowned out by the more powerful one.

  4. Avatar Michael V says:

    Disappointing that it’s delayed, but to be expected.

    EE has a lot of 2600mhz they could also use at some point.
    No mention from Ofcom on when the mmWave auction might take place? I’m guessing 2022/23…
    I’m not a customer but
    O2 could really do with more spectrum.
    But we know after the auction, they will all have words on who gets what allotments.
    Vodafone had a moan last time! Hahaha!

    After this, hope to see more plans on the decommissioning of HSPA+.

  5. Avatar Phil says:

    Why would it be delayed? It’s not like they are turning up at an auction room having to wave cards about until the hammer goes down.

    The reason it is delayed is because the mobile networks and their shareholders, faced with a more cautious approach to business given the uncertainties Covid has provided, are in no mood for bidding the highest amounts, so OFCOM are delaying and will reopen the bidding again when/IF? we get back to normal and the outlook is more rosy.

  6. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

    OFCOM are basically greedy and know they’d get far less in the current climate regardless of the impact the delay will have in releasing more spectrum.

    1. Avatar Stating the obvious says:

      You do know who OFCOM is owned by? Yes, that’s right. All of us. And what do those profits go towards? The central treasury pot. And what does the pot get spent on? Amongst other things, helping to pay for 100 million doses of a vaccine to help keep some of us alive.

      So, prey, tell, what is wrong with holding out for the highest price? If you pay UK Tax you should support getting the highest price because it is in YOUR interest.

    2. Avatar Randy says:

      bah my comment never showed up…

      so how about this

      Google what the top people at ofcom earn and tell me about how it’s a public pot and how they all earned it …

      https://www.ispreview.co.uk/index.php/2021/01/ofcom-uk-delays-start-of-700mhz-and-3-6-3-8ghz-5g-auction.html#respond

    3. Avatar Randy says:

      or the proper link…

      https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0017/126170/senior-salary-disclosure-november-2018.pdf

      man can we please have an option to edit or delete comments?

    4. Avatar Buggerlugz says:

      come on! get real! Its a government quango ran by over paid bureaucrats pandering to the industries whims else creating red tape where it suits them, nothing more.

      OFCOM certainly doesn’t exist to make anything better for the consumer.

    5. Avatar Aled says:

      I love this argument that the money is going from businesses into the public pot. Yes, those businesses are giving the govt money, those businesses will pass the charge onto their customers.

      It’s a stealth tax. Nothing less.

  7. Avatar Alex says:

    Obviously the 700MHz spectrum will offer the best coverage in rural areas, but what sort of performance can it offer? The current 4G offering in the 800MHz band is usually worse than plain old 3G.

  8. Avatar alan says:

    I will be glad to see any improvements in the mobile spectrum
    I live on the Essex & Suffolk border
    EE:- 4g and 5g
    Three:- 2g an 3g too slow for mobile Broadband
    O2 and Vodaphone :- Signal 1 bar or less, unusable for mobile broadband

    1. Avatar Michael V says:

      @Alyn. Three does not have a 2G network. They only used O2’s then Orange’s for roaming till their 3G network was built out to most of the UK.

  9. Avatar Gin says:

    5G, another victim of government incompetence…

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