The bidding process concluded after just a few days, raising £1.36 billion for the 200 MHz of spectrum on offer
After almost a year’s delay caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the UK’s second 5G spectrum auction is now complete, with all four of the nation’s mobile operators securing additional spectrum.
The auction raised a total of £1.36 billion, exceeding the £1.1 billion reserve price set by Ofcom.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, EE secured the lion’s hare of the spectrum, purchasing 2×10 MHz of paired spectrum in the 700 MHz band for £280 million, 20 MHz of unpaired downlink spectrum 700 MHz band for £4 million, and 40 MHz in the 3.6–3.8 GHz band for £168 million.
Three and O2 both also gained 2×10 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum for the same price paid by EE.
Vodafone, who did not purchase additional 700 MHz spectrum, instead spent £176.4 million on 40 MHz of 3.6–3.8 GHz, with O2 doing likewise. That Vodafone did not purchase lowband spectrum is not too surprising, since the company has a different strategy for handling these frequencies.
“Vodafone remains the only operator not to secure any 700 MHz spectrum as it will refarm 900 MHz for 5G services,” explained PP Foresight’s Paolo Pescatore. “All of the operators are seeking to maximise their current holdings in the face of increasing costs and margins being squeezed.”
In total, the spectrum auction increased the UK operators’ spectrum holdings by around a fifth, according to Ofcom.
Overall, the UK’s telcos are likely to be very satisfied with this result, with each of them getting the spectrum they required without undue expense.
“We are delighted with the result, which secured the right spectrum at a fair price,” said CEO of O2 Mark Evans.
For Three, their purchase of additional low frequency spectrum triples their holdings in this band, with CEO Robert Finnegan saying move “will have a transformative effect on our customers’ experience indoors and in rural areas”. As it often does, Three also emphasised that they have “the UK’s largest 5G spectrum holding”, which they claim will help to cement their position in 5G leadership.
Next up for the operators is the assignment stage, where they will be able to bid on where within the 3.6–3.8 GHz spectrum their bands will be positioned. It is hoped that this part of the process will help to reduce the fragmentation of the operators’ spectrum, something which some operators had previously petitioned Ofcom to handle prior to the auction itself.
If desired, a negotiation period will be granted before the assignment stage begins, for the operators to talk amongst themselves to decide where best to position their new holdings. Nonetheless, the process is expected to be finalised relatively quickly and, with current technology already largely capable of handling the additional spectrum, it will not be long before the operators – and their customers – are seeing the benefits from the new spectrum.
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