» ISP News, Key Developments » 

Ofcom to Start UK 5G Mobile Auction for 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz

Wednesday, March 10th, 2021 (10:35 am) - Score 5,760
5g signal

The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has today confirmed that their auction of the 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz radio spectrum bands will begin this Friday (12th March). The move should ultimately help to improve the coverage and speed of 5G mobile (mobile broadband) networks.

Overall Ofcom aims to auction off 80MHz of spectrum frequency in the 700MHz band and 120MHz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8GHz bands (total release of 200MHz). 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.

NOTE: 700MHz was formerly used for Digital Terrestrial TV services. Lower frequencies like this are ideal for delivering wide geographic coverage as they travel further and penetrate better into buildings (complemented by 800MHz and 900MHz), while 3.6-3.8GHz tends to be better for ultrafast data speeds in urban areas.

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.

We should point out that all the major operators already have some 5G specific 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 several years ago (this includes a 20MHz slice from the 3.4GHz auction).

Otherwise, applicants that have qualified to take part in the auction are listed below and there are no surprises.

Approved Bidders
— Three UK (Hutchison 3G UK Limited)
— O2 (Telefónica UK Limited)
— Vodafone


We suspect that EE, Vodafone and O2 will all end up trying their best to build a larger block of contiguous spectrum to help 5G (a block of 100MHz is considered ideal – Three UK has this already). In order to facilitate this the auction will include an additional “assignment stage” (second stage) at the end, which enables operators to negotiate (bid on) placements of their spectrum within the band (it remains to be seen if this will reduce the level of fragmentation in the wider 3.4-3.8GHz band as Ofcom hopes).

Bidding Lots

The spectrum will be made available for bids in the following lots:

A. 6 lots of 2 x 5MHz (paired) in the 700 MHz band, with a reserve price of £100m per lot.

B. 4 lots of 10MHz of 700MHz downlink-only spectrum, with a reserve price of £1m per lot.

C. 24 lots of 5MHz of 3.6GHz spectrum, with a reserve price of £20m per lot.

The auction is likely to take several weeks to complete before we know the final outcome. See the table below for some context of existing spectrum holdings by UK mobile operators (this is a little older now and so doesn’t reflect some recent, albeit smaller, changes).

mobile spectrum holdings uk dec 2018

Share with Twitter
Share with Linkedin
Share with Facebook
Share with Reddit
Share with Pinterest
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
47 Responses
  1. Dave says:

    What does all this mean for the end customer?

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      From the first paragraph – “improve the coverage and speed of 5G mobile (mobile broadband) networks”

    2. Buggerlugz says:

      Absolutely, how about improving the coverage and speed of 4G mobile (mobile broadband) networks first? Oh, I forgot, that’s yesterdays next great thing they didn’t do properly and they’ve moved onto the next.

    3. Yeehaa says:

      Customers bills go up to pay for auction costs for the operators? 😀

    4. Lee r says:

      The average consumer should disable 5g on his phone. Having an additional radio in your phone uses considerably more battery life. My s21 ultra lasts 3 days with 5g disabled vs barely making it through the day with it on.

      We are lucky in the UK as no operator has 5g only masts. This means we can disable it and not miss out on network coverage.

      Maybe in the far future 5g may be beneficial as hopefully by that time battery technology would have improved.

  2. JP says:

    I find it hilarious just how little spectrum is available for auction.

    The success of networks elsewhere in the world is because of the vast amount of spectrum they have available to them (and I’m not just talking about 5G)

    Networks relying on tiny blocks of 5/10mhz has been a silly game the last bunch of years, and now I guess somebody will flip the game board when they buy more than a 20mhz stake in 700mhz.

    1. Buggerlugz says:

      OFCOM know its a money maker and know the carriers won’t invest in the back-haul to deliver true 5G anyway, so its dangling a carrot in-front of the old knackered pit pony hoping it’ll actually go faster.

    2. Mike says:

      Why would you invest if you’re just going to get milked every time their is a spectrum auction?

      The government, if they are going to hold such auctions, should be putting the cash aside for mobile network infrastructure.

    3. Mark Jackson says:

      “Why would you invest if you’re just going to get milked every time their is a spectrum auction?”

      Valid point, but on the flip side if an operator chooses not to invest then, in this competitive market, they will ultimately lose out in some way further down the line. Ofcom’s approach to auctions is not an uncommon approach around the world.

      Over in the USA operators also just splashed over $80 billion for 280MHz of spectrum (3.7-3.98GHz). Bigger country of course, but still.. that’s a lot.

    4. Mike says:


      It seems to encourage a bare minimum approach in regards to all operators, the auction funds imo could be used as a sort of deposit, whereby once winning an action the operator can get the money back but only by purchasing network infrastructure with it.

    5. JP says:

      I’ve just finished writing about my experience using LTE in some of the remotest locations in Canada and one of the points I made there is you don’t see networks rolling out 1 or 2 bands of Spectrum with only a 5/10/15mhz width per cell,

      What I saw and many on CellMapper concur is consistent availability of 4x4CA with 20Mhz width available to each band so when I had a 3CA Huawei P20 Pro in 2018 I tested at around 400mbps,

      Only EE’s comparable to that in this country. (testing soon hopefully)

  3. André says:

    The 700MHz deployments could potentially be very interesting for coverage but I do wonder how much bandwidth you’d be able to extract from such a low frequency.

    1. JP says:

      low frequency with no band’width’, it would be more of an exercise of putting 5G in the corner of your screen and that’s about it.

    2. drevilbob says:

      Ericsson just tested their new 700mhz equipment and got 600Mbps obviously best case but I’m guessing about 100-200Mbps in the real world is very possible.

    3. Billy Nomates says:

      more bands to aggregate though. more aggregation, more speed.

    4. Gary says:

      Surely a 10mhz allocation at 700mhz gives pretty much the same bandwidth/throughout as 10mhz at 3.4ghz. I see people saying 700mhz is “slow” often on here however if the spectrum allocation is the same what realistically is the difference.

      I thought the reason higher frequencies offered higher speeds was down to their being larger blocks being allocated, not that the frequency itself made much of a difference.

    5. JP says:

      Somewhat correct Gary, but as you say there is 80mhz to be shared between 4 providers, my guess is that’s gotta be paired so 10mhz each provider (if fairly split) but current 3400mhz spectrum ranges 40mhz to 100mhz in cell band width, 10mhz and bandwidth won’t deliver a fat lot of bandwidth and when spread over long distance will become congested quickly, though maybe I’m wrong

    6. Matt says:

      Technically 10MHz band width at ~700MHz can get you better speeds than 10MHz at 3.4GHz.

      The amount of data you can transfer depends mainly on two things. The Bandwidth as well as signal to noise ratio and because 700MHz band is absorbed less by different objects the ratio will be higher.

      I think eventually speeds of around ~100Mbps should be achievable.

  4. Buggerlugz says:

    Makes little difference if the carriers invest millions in the spectrum OFCOM are flogging unless they’re willing to pony up for the mast tech and back-haul to provide the scope to utilize that spectrum to “Actually deliver the 1Gb+ speeds 5G provides.”

    Voda, EE, Three, if you’re listening, unless you are planning on delivering “Real 5G” don’t bother bidding for the spectrum, because what you’ll be selling is not 5G, its 4G pretending to be 5G instead.

    1. Dickwad says:

      I’m sure the carriers will take note what Buggerlugz had to say.

    2. JP says:

      I don’t think 5G will be truly 5G until the dense mmWave gets going…. long time to go.

      Adding Band 12 to the roster with DSS implemented would see a great improvement in coverage out in the sticks but how that ends up I don’t know.

    3. JP says:

      EDIT: It’s band 28 (n28) not 12.

  5. dave jones says:

    I really hope that all 4 networks get some of the 700mhz bandwidth that supports uploading and downloading that way all networks will get better coverage.

  6. Sonnyb says:

    5G is one big scam. Expensive Samsung S20 with Vodafone 5G average download speed around 150 and with a much cheaper Iphone SE on EE 4G getting average speed close to 150.

  7. Simon says:

    Will the current 5g phones be able to use the new frequencies?

    1. Michael V says:

      all will support 3.4ghz to 3.8ghz. That’s band N78.
      Not all support band 12 > 700mhz. But newer phones will. Most since last summer I think.

  8. Jimbo says:

    They should concentrate on getting coverage and speed sorted out on 4G before jumping on to 150Mbps 5G connections.

    My local eNB hasn’t been upgraded for 6 years.
    No LTE advanced yet!!

    1. JP says:

      I somewhat agree, the use of 700Mhz should be used to coverage and capacity to edge of 4G but marketing is driving the UK telecoms markets and making 5G the answer to fixing coverage is what is being gone with here.

  9. paul edwards says:

    5G doesn’t really benefit the end users at the moment. It’s much more beneficial and efficient use of spectrum to the providers.
    Currently there’s no applications that require such increase in speed or low latency, but there will be in the future.

    1. Connor says:

      The current 5G networks don’t even hit that mark since they’re held back by still using a 4G anchor so they can’t increase latency and speed and capacity are held back by it.

      I jumped on the 5G bandwagon really early and went to a massive bonfire that’s held every year (well used to) despite having a full 5G connection the 4G anchor was so bogged down I still couldn’t connect.

    2. JP says:

      Connors right, I’ve seen this issue when testing Three’s 5G recently, I saw the best and worst of it however.

      Vodafone 5G operates better as the LTE side operates better, and today I’m testing O2 hopefully.

      See more on the forum 🙂

  10. Marl says:

    Is there much point in buying more spectrum. Three apparently have real 5G as they have more spectrum BUT I get faster speeds on 3G than what I do on 4G and 5G combined!

    1. JP says:

      For Three they would only be interested in the 700mhz spectrum unless they wanted to try privately sell spectrum in the higher bands.

      Networks such as O2 and Vodafone should be more interested in getting more higher end spectrum and lower end too enhance 5G coverage.

    2. Raychel says:

      Plus, the signal’s better on 3G anyway.

    3. Raychel says:

      [In addition to previous reply from me]

      Personally, I don’t get it since 4G is meant to be better, but the previous generation is? I need answers!

  11. Anthony Goodman says:

    I really think they should just do away with Terrestrial TV and radio entirely and have TV broadcast entirely over the internet and just free up the whole airway to either Wifi or 5G which they could increase speeds and availability considerably then.

    TV in 2021 is not important at all. Internet is, however. And given the internet can show all of the TV anyway there is no need for both.

    1. JP says:

      No way, infrastructure in this country is miles away from that being possible.

      The lower spectrum would only help with coverage of basic services anyway and not really improve overall performance.

  12. adslmax says:

    Ofcom SHOULD sort it out 4G first

    1. Raychel says:

      I agree, they should.

  13. Raychel says:

    Why so fast with 5G? I think they need to focus on 4G and making that better, in terms of signal strength. But there we are…

    By the way, I’m 21 and not ready for 5G services yet [called me old fashioned if you will].

    1. Connor says:

      The 5G rollout should complement 4G but more masts, better backhaul and upgraded sites but yeah I do agree there should be a minimum service obligation attached to the spectrum to improve services all round. Even living in a city I can’t get a signal indoors despite the technology being here for years.

  14. Hubert Thrunge says:

    Hang on, wasn’t 700MHz set aside for ESWhen? Is that quietly being pushed out to the long grass….

  15. SM024X says:

    Given that nothing I do on my phone requires more than 20mbps, I’m definitely more interested in great coverage than super fast speeds. I’ll stick with whichever network deploys most low band spectrum for 4G/5G.

    1. Lee r says:

      This is a great reply and if the operators were listening they would realise that 99% of users do not care what “G” they connect too. They just want consistent speeds. 20mbps is more than enough for a phone and will be for years to come.

      I always laugh when I see the marketing hype promising 8K video streaming on a phone. Who is watching 8k videos on their tiny phones, eagles maybe but not humans!

  16. Stefan Stanislawski says:

    Smaller innovative companies are completely excluded by the reserve price and national auction structure. In the US numerous utilities have bought spectrum for grid control (LTE and 5G in future). Simply not possible here and there is apparently very little resilience in the MNO networks in the face of major issues.
    It was not that long ago that an Ofcom report described fibre as a luxury product not to be encouraged in any way. I think spectrum is stuck in that same early 1990s groove. Surely time for a regime change and open up to new companies with new thinking and differentiated models. Anyone in Ofcom aware of the number of fibre altnets surely ought to be thinking to themselves the bleedin’ obvious: spectrum is to mobile what PIA is to fibre. Open the market!

    1. JP says:

      To be honest the whole spectrum thing in the UK is a joke compared to North America’s.

      Even if they did open it up to other/small operators like they did with LTE there isn’t enough spectrum to go around, or at least not enough that would make a impact.

  17. Joe blogs says:

    We should get mmwave 5G in uk as we only got midrange band 5G here in uk as huwaiai equipment will be stripped out of uk by 2027

Comments are closed.

Comments RSS Feed

Javascript must be enabled to post (most browsers do this automatically)

Privacy Notice: Please note that news comments are anonymous, which means that we do NOT require you to enter any real personal details to post a message. By clicking to submit a post you agree to storing your comment content, display name, IP, email and / or website details in our database, for as long as the post remains live.

Only the submitted name and comment will be displayed in public, while the rest will be kept private (we will never share this outside of ISPreview, regardless of whether the data is real or fake). This comment system uses submitted IP, email and website address data to spot abuse and spammers. All data is transferred via an encrypted (https secure) session.

NOTE 1: Sometimes your comment might not appear immediately due to site cache (this is cleared every few hours) or it may be caught by automated moderation / anti-spam.

NOTE 2: Comments that break our rules, spam, troll or post via known fake IP/proxy servers may be blocked or removed.
Cheapest Ultrafast ISPs
  • Gigaclear £20.00 (*54.00)
    Speed: 400Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Vodafone £23.00 (*26.00)
    Speed: 100Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Virgin Media £25.00 (*44.00)
    Speed: 108Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Hyperoptic £25.00 (*35.00)
    Speed: 150Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: Promo Code: HYPERFALL21
  • Community Fibre £27.50 (*32.50)
    Speed: 200Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: First 6 Months Free
Large Availability | View All
New Forum Topics
Cheapest Superfast ISPs
  • NOW £20.00 (*32.00)
    Speed 36Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Vodafone £20.00 (*23.00)
    Speed 38Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Hyperoptic £20.00 (*25.00)
    Speed 50Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: Promo Code: HYPERFALL21
  • TalkTalk £21.00 (*29.95)
    Speed 38Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: None
  • Plusnet £21.95 (*38.20)
    Speed 36Mbps, Unlimited
    Gift: £75 Reward Card
Large Availability | View All
The Top 20 Category Tags
  1. FTTP (3655)
  2. BT (3043)
  3. Politics (1971)
  4. Building Digital UK (1941)
  5. FTTC (1897)
  6. Openreach (1861)
  7. Business (1715)
  8. Mobile Broadband (1499)
  9. Statistics (1424)
  10. FTTH (1367)
  11. 4G (1294)
  12. Virgin Media (1191)
  13. Fibre Optic (1182)
  14. Wireless Internet (1175)
  15. Ofcom Regulation (1164)
  16. Vodafone (858)
  17. EE (845)
  18. 5G (791)
  19. TalkTalk (779)
  20. Sky Broadband (756)
Helpful ISP Guides and Tips

Copyright © 1999 to Present - ISPreview.co.uk - All Rights Reserved - Terms , Privacy and Cookie Policy , Links , Website Rules , Contact