Insights Ofcom announces start of spectrum auction

Ofcom has announced that mobile operators began bidding in the UK’s next spectrum auction on Friday 12 March 2021. A total of 200 MHz of spectrum is being released through the auction, which will help improve existing mobile services and also support the continued rollout of 5G across the UK.

After a pause in the process following the significant worsening of the coronavirus situation at the end of 2020, bidding in the principal stage began last Friday.

The auction involves the UK’s four main mobile networks: EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands:

  • the 700 MHz band: Ofcom is releasing 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band; these airwaves are ideal for providing wide area coverage, including in the countryside; and
  • the 3.6-3.8 GHz band: Ofcom is releasing 120 MHz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band; these important airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and capable of boosting mobile data capacity, carrying lots of data-hungry connections.

Bidding will take place in two separate stages:

  • principal stage: companies first bid for airwaves in “lots” to determine how much spectrum each company wins in each band; bidding will continue for as long as there is excess demand for the spectrum available; Ofcom will announce the results of the principal stage as soon as possible after it has concluded; and
  • assignment stage: there is then a round of bidding to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated; winners of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band will also have the opportunity to negotiate the specific frequencies among themselves if they want to join together the airwaves they have secured within the wider 3.4-3.8 GHz band; the final results of the auction will be published once all stages are complete.

To access Ofcom’s guide to the spectrum auction, click here.