Ofcom Announces Auction Bidders For 5G Spectrum

The UK communications regulator Ofcom has confirmed the names of six companies who will be able to take part in the upcoming auction for 4G and 5G spectrum.

The six operators are Airspan Spectrum Holdings Ltd, EE Ltd, Connexin Ltd, Hutchison 3G UK Ltd, Telefónica UK Ltd, and Vodafone Ltd.

Ofcom intends to hold the auction to sell off 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum “as quickly as possible” after it overcame legal challenges from both Three (Hutchinson) and BT/EE over a spectrum cap.

Quick Auction

This decision to hold the auction quickly is because Ofcom became fed up with the continued delays to the process, which were a characteristic of the 2013 auction of 4G spectrum.

Ofcom will now auction off 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band. This is a band that is already supported by current mobile devices and could be used immediately after release.

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

Airspan, EE, Connexin, Hutchison 3G UK, Telefónica, and Vodafone now have three days to confirm whether they wish to take part, or withdraw from the process.

“We’re pressing ahead with the auction to make these airwaves available as quickly as possible,” said Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s Spectrum Group Director. “This will benefit today’s mobile users by providing more capacity for mobile broadband use. It will also pave the way for 5G, allowing operators to launch the next generation of mobile technology.”

Legal Challenges

Hutchison (Three), EE, Vodafone, and Telefónica (O2) are well known mobile operators in the UK.

Airspan for the record is a small cell operator.

Connexin on the other hand operates in the Hull area as a fixed wireless operator, offering superfast broadband to locations, without a physical connection.

For the 5G auction, Ofcom had faced legal challenges from BT/EE and Three, because it wanted to limit any single operator limited to 255MHz of ‘immediately usable’ spectrum (that is 800MHz, 900MHz, 1400MHz, 1800MHz, 2100MHz and 2.6GHz) and 340MHZ of all airwaves available in the UK – an overall cap of 37 percent.

BT has 255MHz and so is banned from bidding in the 2.3GHz auction but could gain as much as 85MHz of the 3.4GHz band.

Vodafone has 176MHz so is limited to 85MHz of each, while Three and O2 have no restrictions.

Three had wanted the overall cap to be lowered to 30 percent.

Quiz: What do you know about 4G?

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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