UK comms regulator Ofcom has confirmed plans to auction spectrum to help improve mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G, with bidding set to start in January 2021.
According to Ofcom, the auction will increase the total amount of spectrum available for mobile in the UK by nearly a fifth (18 per cent) – bringing better and faster services to consumers and business.
“Demand for getting online on the move is soaring, and the pandemic has only increased the importance of mobile services to people and businesses,” commented Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s Spectrum Group Director. “Releasing these airwaves promptly will bring a much-needed capacity boost, helping mobile customers get a better service.”
Ofcom has a duty to ensure spectrum is allocated efficiently, for the benefit of consumers. Ofcom also ensures companies can compete fairly and that customers have a strong choice of mobile networks. Suitable airwaves are scarce, and Ofcom says that auctions are the best way to achieve these aims when demand is greater than supply.
Some mobile operators had argued for the spectrum to be allocated through an administrative process, instead of an open auction, in light of the coronavirus. Having examined this suggestion, Ofcom does not believe it would meet its duty to secure optimal use of the UK’s spectrum. It is also important to make the spectrum available to mobile users without unnecessary delay.
Ofcom has written to mobile explaining its reasoning, and published new guidance on the auction process, so that it can be held safely during the pandemic. It has also confirmed the rules for how the auction will work, after further consultation on modelling and technical matters.
The auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands.
The spectrum would be made available for bids in the following lots:
Ofcom is using an auction format known as ‘simultaneous multiple round ascending’ (SMRA).
It has imposed a 37 per cent cap on overall spectrum holdings, which has the effect of restricting existing mobile companies to acquiring the following amounts: