Ofcom Confirms Plans For Spectrum Auction Early Next Year


By Emmanuel Oluebube, Correspondent UK

UK TMT umpire, Ofcom has confirmed plans to auction important airwaves to help improve mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G.

Ofcom manages the UK’s airwaves – or spectrum – a finite resource that is essential for wireless services including mobile phones.

To help improve mobile services and give people better access to 5G the regulator says it will release more airwaves in an auction, with bidding set to start in January 2021.

The auction will increase the total amount of airwaves – or ‘spectrum’– available for mobile in the UK by nearly a fifth (18%) – bringing better and faster services to consumers and business.

Ofcom’s Spectrum Group Director, Philip Marnick said: “Demand for getting online on the move is soaring, and the pandemic has only increased the importance of mobile services to people and businesses. Releasing these airwaves promptly will bring a much-needed capacity boost, helping mobile customers get a better service.”

Taking account of coronavirus

Ofcom has a duty to ensure spectrum is allocated efficiently, for the benefit of consumers. We also ensure companies can compete fairly and that customers have a strong choice of mobile networks. Suitable airwaves are scarce, and 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, we do not believe it would meet our 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.

The regulator had written to mobile operators explaining its reasoning, and published new guidance on the auction process, so that it can be held safely during the pandemic.

The airwaves open for bidding

Ofcom 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 700 MHz band. Ofcom says it is releasing 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band, following a four-year programme to clear the band of its existing uses for digital terrestrial TV and wireless microphones. These airwaves, it maintained, are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas – including the countryside. Releasing these airwaves will also boost the capacity of today’s mobile networks – offering customers a more reliable service.

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.

All four of the biggest mobile operators have launched 5G in the last year and releasing these airwaves will help increase the capacity and quality of mobile data services.

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