Ofcom updates proposal for upcoming 5G auction in response to Shared Rural Network plan
Written by: Charlotte Hathway | Published:

Ofcom has released new guidance for how next year’s spectrum auction will work. The auction will determine how the release of airwaves will be allocated, and aims to meet growing demand for mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G.

It had previously proposed including coverage obligations in its auction rules, which would have required mobile network operators to increase coverage in rural areas, in exchange for discounted spectrum.

In light of the commitments outlined in last week’s Shared Rural Network plan, Ofcom is no longer proposing to include coverage obligations in its auction.

The auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands.

  • The 700MHz band – it is releasing 80MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band. These airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas, including the countryside.
  • The 3.6-3.8GHz band – it is releasing 120MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8GHz band. These airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and can carry lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas.

It plans to use a format known as ‘simultaneous multiple round ascending’. This approach involves two stages:

  • Principal stage – companies first bid for airwaves in separate ‘lots’ to determine how much spectrum each company wins.
  • Assignment stage – there will then be a round of bidding to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated.

Winners of 3.6-3.8GHz spectrum will have an opportunity within the assignment stage to negotiate their placements within the band among themselves. This will make it more straightforward for bidders to join the new spectrum with their existing holdings, and potentially reduce the level of fragmentation in the wider 3.4-3.8GHz band.

Ofcom has said responses to its proposals should be shared by 9 December, with final decisions to follow in early 2020. The auction will then start in the spring.

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