HomeInsightsOfcom announces updated proposals to release crucial airwaves to meet growing demand for mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G

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Ofcom says that to help improve mobile services and enable more people and businesses can access 5G networks, it is planning to release more mobile airwaves through an auction in spring 2020. Following its consultation in December last year, Ofcom has published updated proposals for how the auction will work.

The auction will involve companies 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 good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas, including the countryside; and
  • the 3.6-3.8 GHz band: Ofcom is releasing 120 MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8 GHz band. These important airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and are capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas.

Ofcom says that it plans to use a format known as “simultaneous multiple round ascending”, which is similar to its 2018 spectrum auction and involves two stages:

  • principal stage: companies first bid for airwaves in separate “lots” to determine how much spectrum each company wins; and
  • assignment stage: a subsequent round of bidding to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated.

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

Following the Government’s announcement that the four mobile network operators have committed to deliver good quality 4G coverage to at least 92% of the UK over six years, through a “Shared Rural Network” (see item above), Ofcom no longer proposes including coverage obligations in the auction design.

Ofcom is inviting responses to its proposals by 9 December 2019. It then plans to publish its final decisions in early 2020, before starting the auction in the spring. To read Ofcom’s news release in full, click here.