Vodafone Says Upcoming 5G Auction Should Be Halted

The decision by the British government earlier this week to give mobile operators seven years to remove all Huawei equipment from UK 5G networks by 2027, has triggered a response from Vodafone.

It has publicly urged Ofcom to scrap the upcoming 5G auction, which had been slated for Spring 2020.

This upcoming was designed to free up 200MHz worth of bandwidth for next-generation mobile services, but was delayed as the Coronavirus pandemic took hold.

Spectrum bands

Ofcom had been hoping to auction spectrum in two different frequency bands.

The first is the 700 MHz band – airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas – including the countryside.

The second band is the 3.6-3.8 GHz band – widely viewed as part of the primary band for 5G and capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas.

So essentially the 700MHz band offers greater range and indoor coverage, while the 3.6-3.8GHz band have greater capacity but limited range.

But Ofcom has been facing some objections.

In May this year the regulator confirmed a legal challenge to the planned 5G spectrum auction by operator O2.

Auction halt

There is no date set for this auction, but according to the BBC, Ofcom had in April rejected Vodafone’s suggestion to scrap the auction.

But on Thursday, Vodafone chief executive Nick Jeffery stuck to his guns when he told BBC News: “Now is the time to consider a new way to manage these auctions.”

“Return on investment in telecoms in the UK is amongst the lowest in the world,” said Jeffery. “With additional money being taken out of the mobile industry from yesterday’s decision on Huawei, now is the time to focus on ensuring operators can still afford to invest in the network this country deserves.”

“There is little point in operators owning spectrum if we don’t have the money to use it,” he added. “History teaches us that from the 3G auctions.”

The 3G auction cost mobile operators a staggering £20bn.

Vodafone essentially says radio frequencies for 5G mobile services should instead be evenly distributed for a set price.

First 5G auction

Ofcom had first auctioned off spectrum for 5G back in April 2018, after legal challenges from both Three and EE.

Two year ago it sold airwaves in two frequency bands, namely 2.3GHz (4G) and 3.4GHz spectrum (5G).

The biggest winner of the entire process was O2, which managed to secure 40MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band. This is a band that is already supported by current 4G devices.

But it was the auction of 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.4GHz band that prompted the most interest, as although these airwaves are not compatible with 4G mobile devices, they are key for the roll out of 5G services across Europe.

EE Ltd won 40 MHz of 3.4 GHz spectrum at a cost of £302,592.

Hutchison 3G UK Ltd (Three) won 20 MHz of 3.4 GHz spectrum at a cost of £151,296, and Vodafone won 50 MHz of 3.4 GHz spectrum at a cost of £378,240.

But it was Telefónica UK Ltd (O2’s owner) who analysts said at the time did the best out the big four.

It won all 40MHz of 2.3 GHz spectrum available, at a cost of £205,896; and 40MHz of 3.4 GHz spectrum at a cost of £317,720.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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