The auction is expected to begin in the final quarter of next year 

UK regulator Ofcom has confirmed plans to make mmWave spectrum in the 26GHz and 40GHz bands available for the nation’s mobile operators.  

In a statement released yesterday, Ofcom outlined its plans to auction 15-year fixed term licenses for 26GHz and 40GHz spectrum covering 68 UK towns and cities. There will also be an assignment of more localised licenses within these areas under the shared access licensing framework. 

But while Ofcom has now confirmed than an auction will be held for the spectrum, a timeline to do so is less clear, with regulator saying it will delay the process until after the UK Competition and Markets Authority makes a decision on the potential Vodafone–Three merger. 

Announced back in June, the merger would reduce the number of mobile players in the market from four to three, potentially giving the combined entity a significant advantage when it comes to spectrum holdings. As a result, Ofcom is looking to avoid giving away the mmWave spectrum early and exacerbating this disbalance.  

The design of the auction will be released later this year, with Ofcom expected to issue a statement and initiate a further consultation on the process. 

Mobile operators’ appetite for mmWave spectrum is likely to be mixed. These higher frequencies are  attractive due to their higher speeds and capacity, compared to low- and mid-band 5G spectrum, as well as being able to deliver lower latency.  However, these benefits come at the cost of high propagation losses and a relatively short effective range, making the spectrum broadly unsuitable for covering large areas in all but the most densely populated of locations.  

Instead, mmWave has proven much more suited to a number of more specific deployments, such as for private 5G mobile networks for industries and enterprises, and providing consumers with fixed wireless access broadband. 

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