Ofcom To Free Up More 5G Spectrum

Ofcom is to hold another 5G spectrum auction in Spring 2020, in which it will free up 200MHz worth of bandwidth for next-generation mobile services.

Ofcom said it would hold the second 5G auction in order to “help improve mobile services and enable more people and businesses to access 5G networks.”

It comes after the government and the four main mobile networks last week pledged to deliver 95 percent 4G coverage in the UK via a ‘Shared Rural Network’ (SRN) programme.

5G Auction

In exchange for operators deciding to share their mast networks for the mobile coverage push, Ofcom is proposing to no longer include coverage obligations in its auction.

“This is because, through the companies working together, the agreement will achieve higher coverage than the requirements we could have set through an auction,” said the regulator. “So we have today published updated proposals for how our mobile auction will work.”

So what airwaves (or spectrum) being released? Well Ofcom will auction spectrum in two different frequency bands.

The first is the 700 MHz band. “We are releasing 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band,” said Ofcom. “These airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas – including the countryside. Releasing these airwaves will also boost the capacity of today’s mobile networks – offering customers a more reliable service.”

The second band is the 3.6-3.8 GHz band.

“We are releasing 120 MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8 GHz band,” said Ofcom. “These important airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and are capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas. All four of the biggest mobile companies have launched 5G this year, and releasing these airwaves will help increase the capacity and quality of mobile data services.”

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

Two stages

Ofcom’s auction will involve two stages. In the “principal stage” companies will first bid for airwaves in separate “lots” to determine how much spectrum each company wins.

Then there will be a round of bidding – the “assignment stage” – to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated.

Winners of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum will have an opportunity in the second stage to negotiate their placements within the band among themselves, allowing operators to join together the new spectrum they win with their existing holdings.

“We’re pressing ahead with plans to release vital airwaves to improve mobile services for customers,” said Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom. “Together with mobile companies’ commitments to improve coverage, this will help more areas get better services, and help the UK maintain its place as a leader in 5G.”

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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...

View Comments

  • Yet another poorly set out strategy by Ofcom!
    A better idea would be to have tied the use of these new spectrums to providing nearly total UK coverage in 4G or 2G that any operator can use and not just the masts. Perhaps force all operators to share their network with other operators - so no matter what operator a user is with and wherever they will a have a service.

    Duplicate infrastructure and networks is just silly, barring that for redundancy purposes.

    The operators say jump the regulators reply is how high!

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