Ofcom finalises rules for mobile airwaves auction
Written by: Charlotte Hathway | Published:

Ofcom has confirmed how airwaves to support the rollout of 5G will be released.

The regulator held a consultation on its proposal at the end of last year, and has today confirmed the rules for how the auction will work. This will increase the total amount of airwaves available for mobile in the UK by 18 per cent.

Philip Marnick, spectrum group director at Ofcom, said, “Demand for getting online, on the move is soaring, with mobile customers using nearly 40% more data year on year. So releasing these airwaves will bring a much-needed capacity boost – helping mobile customers get a better service. We’re also releasing more airwaves to help cement the UK’s place as a world leader in 5G.”

As previously indicated, the auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands. Those bands are:

  • The 700 MHz band – Ofcom is releasing 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, following a four-year programme to clear the band of its existing uses for digital terrestrial TV and wireless microphones. These airwaves can provide good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas, as well as boosting mobile network capacity.
  • The 3.6-3.8 GHz band – it is releasing 120 MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8 GHz band, part of the primary band for 5G and capable of carrying connections in concentrated areas.

The auction itself will involve two stages, as below, which is a similar format to that used for its 2018 spectrum auction.

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

The assignment stage allows winners of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum to negotiate their placements within the band among themselves. This means mobile operators have the opportunity to create more continuous ‘blocks’ of 5G-ready spectrum.

The regulator has said it will impose a 37% cap on the overall spectrum that any one mobile company can hold following the auction. As previously announced, Ofcom will not be including coverage obligations in this auction in response to the Shared Rural Network plans. Ofcom says it will monitor and report on progress in meeting those commitments.

Ofcom has finalised the Auction Regulations; once those have come into force, it will invite applications from potential bidders for the auction. It will assess all applications, before publishing details of who has qualified to take part and when the principal stage will begin.

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