And they’re off! Ofcom announces spectrum auction runners

By Sarah Wray 27 February 2018

5G ofcom auction

Ofcom has today announced the six companies approved to take part in the long-awaited UK spectrum auction.

The applicants Ofcom has deemed qualified, based on a submissions process, are:

  • Airspan Spectrum - a small cell and backhaul technologies leader
  • EE
  • Connexin - the internet company
  • Hutchison 3G UK ( Three UK )
  • Telefónica UK ( O2 UK )
  • Vodafone

Each now has three days to confirm that they will take part or to withdraw from the auction.

What’s on offer

Ofcom is auctioning additional spectrum it has made available in two bands to make way for 5G services. In the 2.3 GHz band, 40 MHz of spectrum will be auctioned. This band is already supported by existing mobile devices so could be used as soon the spectrum is released and allocated. In the 3.4 GHz band, 150 MHz of spectrum will be auctioned. These airwaves won’t be compatible with most of today’s devices but are important to 5G’s rollout in Europe, Ofcom says. The new allocations in both bands increase the total amount of spectrum available in the UK by almost a third.

The auction has been delayed due to a legal challenge from Three but that final hurdle was overcome last week. Three had called for Ofcom to cap the amount of spectrum that any operator can hold at 30%, rather than the current 37% limit.  The courts disagreed and the Court of Appeal upheld this.

Place your bids

Ofcom has set reserve prices for the auction at £10 million per 10MHz lot of the 2.3GHz band (total £40 million) and £1 million per 5MHz block in the 3.4GHz band (total £30 million). Each operator will submit a closed bid and these are expected to exceed the reserve price.

Although Three’s concerns were thrown out and some restrictions are in place, it’s true that the auction could see one or two operators in a dominant position spectrum-wise, potentially reducing competition.

EE/BT has already hit its limit on immediately useable spectrum so it can’t bid on the 2.3GHz spectrum, and can only win up to 85GHz of the 3.4GHz spectrum. Vodafone can only win 160MHz of spectrum in total. 

However, even with such controls, these operators could still end up holding much more spectrum than any other network -- and that might not necessarily be good for consumers.

We’ll soon see as Ofcom now seems keen to press ahead as quickly as possible. Let the bidding commence.

Image credit: Ofcom

About Sarah Wray

Technical Writer at

Sarah Wray is a technical writer with over 10 years' experience writing about technology, including telecoms, smart cities, data, IoT, aerospace, and more.

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