Five firms win Ireland’s first 5G licenses in €78m auction

22 May 2017

Image: Hadrian/Shutterstock

Imagine, Airspan, Vodafone, Three and Meteor have successfully bid for the 3.6GHz spectrum band.

Five firms have been identified as the winners of the first slices of 3.6GHz spectrum – the band critical for certain 5G services – after bidding €78m between them.

All spectrum licenses awarded by ComReg will run for 15 years, expiring on 31 July 2032.

‘All 350MHz of available spectrum, across the entire country, has been assigned at an important time as demand for wireless communications services continues to grow’

Winning bidders will pay in excess of €78m, comprising €60.5m in upfront fees and around €17.7m in spectrum usage fees, which will be paid out over the 15 years.

The sum is a far cry from the €450m instant windfall – with overall fees adding to up to €854.6m – for the Irish exchequer when the 4G licenses were awarded in 2012.

Industry sources suggest that a possible reason for the difference in spectrum value is Ireland’s economy being in a different place and the government being under less pressure from the troika.

The 3.6GHz band is currently being used to provide wireless access services to around 25,000 people in rural areas, with 80pc of this market currently served by Imagine Communications.

The release of the band will increase the amount of spectrum for mobile and fixed wireless broadband services in Ireland by 86pc. It will also enable operators to provide new 5G services with potential speeds of 1Gbps and beyond.

“The result of the 3.6GHz award represents a very good outcome for consumers, service providers and ComReg,” said Gerry Fahy, ComReg chairperson.

“All 350MHz of available spectrum, across the entire country, has been assigned at an important time as demand for wireless communications services continues to grow.

“Continuity for existing services has been underpinned and the possibility of new services has been significantly enhanced. In particular, the characteristics of this band, coupled with its 5G potential, should ensure Ireland is well positioned to benefit from new technology and service enhancements in the years to come.

“The outcome also produced new market entry with the potential for increased investment and innovation, thereby enhancing competition and customer outcomes,” Fahy said.

The 5G five

The winning bidders are:

  • Imagine Communications – obtained spectrum rights for 60MHz in each of Ireland’s rural provinces.
  • Airspan Spectrum Holdings – a new entrant to the Irish market focused on smart utilities and public safety. It has secured spectrum for 25MHz in the rural regions and 60MHz in the cities.
  • Vodafone – obtained 85MHz in rural regions and 105MHz in cities.
  • Three Ireland Hutchison Ltd – secured 100MHz nationally.
  • Meteor Mobile Communications – obtained 80MHz in rural regions and 85MHz in cities.

Commenting on the spectrum awards, Vodafone Ireland CEO Anne O’Leary said: “We are very pleased that Vodafone Ireland’s spectrum will enable us to deliver on our commitment to the Gigabit Society in Ireland.

“In March this year, Vodafone was the first operator in Ireland to achieve mobile 1Gbps speeds and the first to market with a live internet of things (NB-IoT) deployment. This new spectrum in the 3.6GHz band, combined with our €500m investment in Ireland over the next three years, will allow us to be first to market with the latest technologies, as well as continuing to give our customers the very best experience.”

Three Ireland CEO Robert Finnegan said that the company can support the full capabilities of 5G in spectrum bands below 6GHz, which enables it to provide identical 5G services across the country.

“Three wanted to secure 100MHz of 5G spectrum nationally and not to differentiate between rural and urban areas. We are delighted that we are the only bidder that was able to achieve that,” Finnegan said.

“We had two objectives going into this auction. First, we wanted to ensure that those living outside main city areas could enjoy the same service as urban dwellers, by securing uniform spectrum frequency for all rural and urban areas.

“Secondly, we wanted this uniform spectrum to be 100MHz, as this is the recognised optimum bandwidth for 5G and is internationally recommended to support 5G in spectrum bands below 6GHz,” Finnegan said.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years