Ofcom has today made the decision to delay the auction of the 700MHz and 3.6-3.8GHz spectrum bands due to the ongoing lockdown for Covid-19. The regulator had planned to open bidding this month but this principal stage will now begin in March.
BT has called on the regulator to ensure there are no further delays, saying that pushing forward with the rollout of 5G will aid economic recovery from the pandemic. A spokesperson explained, “We’re disappointed the auction will now be delayed although we understand the unique circumstances. The auction and subsequent release of spectrum remains central to the future rollout of mobile networks and 5G. The economy’s recovery from Covid-19 is dependent on resilient digital infrastructure and we urge Ofcom to resist any further requests for delays.”
The auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands:
- The 700MHz band – there is 80MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band available. These airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas, including the countryside.
- The 3.6-3.8GHz band – Ofcom is releasing 120MHz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8GHz band. These airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and can carry lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas.
Ofcom will use a format known as ‘simultaneous multiple round ascending’ which involves two stages: the principal stage where companies first bid for airwaves in separate lots to determine how much spectrum each company wins, followed by the assignment stage where there will be a round of bidding to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated.
Companies that are allocated spectrum in the 3.6-3.8GHz band will have an opportunity within the assignment stage to negotiate their band placements among themselves. Ofcom has said this process will help bidders join the new spectrum with their existing holdings, and potentially reduce the level of fragmentation in the wider 3.4-3.8GHz band.