UK mobile companies fork out almost £1.4bn at 5G spectrum auction

6 Apr 2018

5G will power the next generation of mobile devices. Image: SFIO CRACHO/Shutterstock

O2 came out as the winner of the 5G spectrum auction in the UK.

The UK’s major mobile operators surpassed analysts’ predictions in the rush to secure the spectrum needed to launch 5G.

Regulator Ofcom auctioned two spectrum bands: 3.4GHz, which will be required for 5G implementation; and 2.3GHz, which is used by networks at present and will improve 4G capacity.

The 3.4GHz spectrum is vital for networks currently as it permits operators to improve the capacity of their networks without the need to add lots of base stations.

O2 secured a majority

O2 successfully purchased all of the 2.3GHz spectrum as well as 40MHz of 3.4GHz. EE, Vodafone and Three procured 40MHz, 50MHz and 20MHz, respectively.

Mark Evans, CEO of O2 parent company Telefónica UK, commented: “The airwaves we’ve secured allow us to further enhance our network, both now and in the future. We’ve thrown down a major marker for our future commitment to the UK. Our investment in 3.4GHz enables us to move forward to further improve connectivity whilst boosting the economy and laying the foundations for 5G in Britain.”

Paving the way for a connected future

Philip Marnick, spectrum group director at Ofcom, said: “As a nation, we’re using ever more mobile data on smartphones and mobile devices. Releasing these airwaves will make it quicker and easier to get online on the move. It will also allow companies to prepare for 5G mobile, paving the way for a range of smart, connected devices.”

Widespread adoption of 5G for mobile devices isn’t expected before 2020, but countries all over the world are organising network testing in preparation for the roll-out. In the second half of 2019, Ofcom will auction spectrum in the 700MHz band, but mobile operators will only be successful if their 4G coverage is at a certain standard.

The regulator said: “To ensure widespread improvements in mobile coverage across the UK, we are proposing to attach coverage obligations to some of the licences we will award for the 700MHz band.

“These obligations will require winning bidders to roll out improved mobile coverage in rural areas and the nations.”

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects