HomeInsightsOfcom finalises rules for mobile airwaves auction

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Ofcom has confirmed how it will release important airwaves to help improve mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G.

To help improve mobile services and give more people access to 5G networks, Ofcom will release more mobile airwaves through an auction. Following consultation, it has now confirmed the rules 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. Ofcom has also published a progress update on work to clear the band of its current uses for digital terrestrial TV and wireless microphones;
  • 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 capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas.

Similar to its 2018 spectrum auction, this year’s auction will involve two stages:

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

To give mobile operators the opportunity to create more continuous “blocks” of 5G-ready spectrum, the assignment stage allows winners of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum to negotiate their placements within the band among themselves. To help maintain strong competition in the UK mobile market, Ofcom will impose a 37% cap on the overall spectrum that any one mobile company can hold following the auction.

Following the Government’s confirmation of agreement with the four mobile network operators to set up the Shared Rural Network to improve mobile coverage, Ofcom says that it will not include coverage obligations in its auction. To read Ofcom’s news release in full, click here.