Spectrum auction to go ahead in May after government changes rules on 900-MHz cap to protect competition, correct asymmetry.

Norway’s telecom regulator plans to begin its upcoming auction of frequencies in the 900 MHz band on 23 May, having once delayed the process to address an issue regarding spectrum caps and the competitive situation in the market.

The Norwegian Communications Authority (Nkom) set the date late last week, although it noted that the schedule could still change.

As it stands, the regulator plans to begin the sale on 17 March with the publication of the final auction rules and the opening of the registration period for would-be participants; entrants have until 20 April to make their submissions.

Nkom has 2 x 20 MHz of spectrum to sell, split into four 2 x 5-MHz blocks. The airwaves are currently held by Telia and Telenor, whose licences are due to expire at the end of this year.

The regulator had intended to conduct the auction on 1 June last year, but called a halt to proceedings after Telia lobbied for the maximum amount of spectrum any one telco is permitted to hold to be reduced. The telco asked Nkom to reduce the 900-MHz cap to 2 x 15 MHz per operator, from the existing level of 2 x 20.1 MHz, apparently fearing that Telenor would buy up additional frequencies to reduce Telia’s ability to compete effectively.

Having assessed the situation, Nkom in October last year declined to alter the cap. However, last month the country’s Ministry of Transport and Communications took the opposite view and lowered the limit to 2 x 15 MHz for the benefit of competition.

Specifically, the ministry said it wanted to prevent a single operator from securing "an excessively large proportion" of the 900 MHz band "in this crucial phase" of the industry’s development.

The 900 MHz band is particularly important as the industry moves over to 4G, with older phones and machine-to-machine (M2M) services still using the older technology generations, while growth comes from 4G, the ministry explained.

"Digitisation is in full swing and frequencies are an essential resource for developing the digital infrastructure," said Minister of Transport and Communications Ketil Solvik-Olsen, in a local language statement.

"Now everything is ready for another important frequency auction and we are facilitating increased competition," he said.

According to the ministry, competition in the Norwegian mobile market is "characterised by asymmetry" when it comes to the operators’ revenue shares. Telenor’s share of mobile revenues stood at 57.9% at mid-2016, according to government figures, while Telia claimed 32.3% and Ice – which is in the process of building out a network in Norway – had just 1.6%.