Ofcom’s next 5G spectrum auction could finally deliver on 5G’s full potential

15 November 2023

Ofcom announce more 5G spectrum

5G in the UK has arguably so far been both very impressive and slightly disappointing, but another 5G spectrum auction is now being planned by Ofcom, and when that’s complete we could see the full potential of 5G get delivered.

This next spectrum auction will see mobile networks be able to bid on spectrum in the 26GHz and 40GHz bands. These bands are known as millimetre wave (mmWave), and they’re much higher frequency than the 700MHz to 3.8GHz bands that are currently being used for 5G in the UK.

Being higher frequency and offering additional capacity means that this spectrum could allow for much higher 5G speeds than we’re getting now. That’s good news, because in the early days there was talk of 5G speeds well in excess of 1Gbps, but so far the reality has been much slower (though still a huge upgrade on 4G).

Limited range

However, higher frequency spectrum also can’t travel far, and as a result this new spectrum – and the higher speeds it could bring – will be of most use in busy urban locations, like shopping centres and stadiums.

Indeed, Ofcom’s current plans are to provide 15-year citywide licenses across 68 major UK towns and cities for this mmWave spectrum, with licenses for other areas to be granted on a first come, first served basis. The upshot being that networks won’t automatically be able to use this spectrum UK-wide, even if there is the appetite to.

Bidders will have the ability to bid on the following spectrum lot categories:

  • 26GHz lower (25.1-26.5 GHz)
  • 26GHz upper (26.5-27.5 GHz)
  • 40GHz (40.5-43.5 GHz)

Each lot will consist of 200MHz of spectrum, with a reserve price of £2 million for each 26GHz lot, and £1 million for each 40GHz lot. The auction will be run in two stages, with the principal stage being used to determine the quantity of spectrum each bidder wins, and the assignment stage then determining the precise frequencies that each winner will get.

Unlike the previous auction though, Ofcom isn’t currently planning a negotiation phase. This previously was used for winners to agree on their respective frequency allocations, typically so that they could ensure they ended up with adjacent spectrum.

However, this plan might change, with Ofcom considering any evidence that is submitted to them until the 9th of January 2024, before reaching a final decision on whether to include a negotiation period.

As for when the auction will actually happen, that’s currently unclear, as it won’t be carried out until the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has decided whether to allow Three and Vodafone to merge. That in itself is unlikely to happen before September 2024, so the earliest this auction could happen is late 2024, but don’t be surprised if we’re waiting until 2025.

Image credit = Ofcom

Editorial Manager

James has been writing for us for over 10 years. Currently, he is Editorial Manager for our group of companies ( 3G.co.uk, 4G.co.uk and 5G.co.uk) and sub-editor at TechRadar. He specialises in smartphones, mobile networks/ technology, tablets, and wearables.

In the past, James has also written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media, Smart TV Radar, and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV. He has a film studies degree from the University of Kent, Canterbury, and has over a decade’s worth of professional writing experience.

Ofcom’s next 5G spectrum auction could finally deliver on 5G’s full potential

Ofcom has laid out its plans for the auctioning of 26GHz and 40GHz mmWave 5G spectrum.

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