All four UK operators secure 5G spectrum in £1.36bn auction

(Image credit: EE)

All four of the UK’s major mobile operators have secured valuable spectrum at the latest Ofcom 5G auction, raising £1.4 billion for the treasury.

Up to 200MHz of spectrum was up for grabs, including worth of long-range 700MHz frequencies freed up by Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), and 120MHz worth of mid-band 3.6-3.8GHz airwaves.

This amounts to an 18% increase in the amount of spectrum available to operators and will be used to improve 4G and 5G mobile services.

Ofcom 5G spectrum auction

EE won 20MHz of paired 800MHz spectrum and 20MHz of supplementary 800MHz airwaves for £280 million and £4 million respectively, while it also secured 40MHz of 3.6-3.8GHz frequencies for £168 million.

O2 was successful with its bid for 20MHz of paired 800MHz spectrum for £280m and with its £168 million offer for 40MHz of 3.6-3.8GHz. Vodafone won 40MHz of 3.6-3.8GHz bandwidth for £176.4 million and Three, which has frequently boasted of its mid-range spectrum assets, focused on securing 20MHz of paired 800MHz for £280 million.

“With bidding in the principal stage concluded, we now move to the next stage of the auction where the operators will have an opportunity to negotiate the position of their spectrum holdings in the wider band,” said Philip Marnick, Group Director, Spectrum at Ofcom.

“This is an important step forward in bringing better mobile services to people – wherever they live, work and travel. These airwaves will help improve coverage for the mobile services people use today, as well as supporting the UK’s position as a world leader in 5G.”

The next phase of the process will see operators negotiate between themselves so that their new spectrum is adjacent to existing frequencies. Once this process has been completed, Ofcom will publish the complete outcome and the total amounts paid by each participant.

The auction is seen as crucial to the rollout of 5G networks, with the new spectrum helping operators to improve coverage in rural areas and enhance capacity in busy urban locations where network density is critical.

It had been hoped the auction would take place in Spring 2020, but the pandemic saw this date pushed back to January 2021 before a further postponement due to the worsening Covid-19 situation in the UK.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.