Releasing airwaves for mobile services next year
Ofcom has announced updated proposals to release crucial airwaves to meet growing demand for mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G.
To help improve mobile services and enable more people and businesses can access 5G networks, we are planning to release more mobile airwaves through an auction in spring 2020. Following our consultation in December last year, we have published updated proposals for how the auction will work.
The auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands.
• The 700 MHz band. We are releasing 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. These airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas – including the countryside.
• The 3.6-3.8 GHz band. We are releasing 120 MHz of spectrum in 3.6-3.8 GHz band. These important airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and are capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas.
We plan to use a format known as ‘simultaneous multiple round ascending’. This approach, which is similar to our 2018 spectrum auction, involves two stages:
• Principal stage. Companies first bid for airwaves in separate ‘lots’ to determine how much spectrum each company wins.
• Assignment stage. Then there is a round of bidding to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated.
Winners of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum will have an opportunity within the assignment stage to negotiate their placements within the band among themselves. This will make it more straightforward for bidders to join together the new spectrum they win with their existing holdings, and potentially reduce the level of ‘fragmentation’ in the wider 3.4-3.8 GHz band.
Following the British Government’s announcement that the four mobile network operators have committed to deliver good quality 4G coverage to at least 92% of the UK over six years, through a ‘Shared Rural Network’, we no longer propose including coverage obligations in the auction design.
We welcome responses to our proposals by 9 December. We then plan to publish our final decisions in early 2020, before starting the auction in the spring.
A news release is available.