Ofcom confirms EE, O2, Three and Vodafone as 5G spectrum auction bidders

Young woman using mobile phone
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Ofcom has named the UK’s four major mobile operators as confirmed bidders for the upcoming auction of 5G spectrum but has warned that Coronavirus could cause a delay to proceedings.

EE, O2, Three and Vodafone had all been named as qualified bidders for the sale of 700MHz and 3.6GHz airwaves in December and their confirmation completes the latest stage in what has been a long-running process.

It had been hoped the auction would take place in Spring 2020 but the pandemic saw this date pushed back to January 2021. But following recent developments, Ofcom has suggested that there could a further review.

Ofcom 5G spectrum

“We are keeping the timing of the start of bidding in the auction under careful review in light of the recent worsening of the coronavirus situation, and will publish an update on this in due course,” ther regulator said.

A total of 200MHz of spectrum is up for grabs, including 80MHz 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.

The auction will comprise two stages. The principal stage will see participants bid for separate lots of spectrum and assignment stage will determine specific frequencies. Operators will be able to negotiate between themselves so that their new spectrum is adjacent to existing frequencies.

O2 had opposed the two-stage process and wanted spectrum to be harmonised in contiguous blocks, while Vodafone wanted the auction to be abandoned in favour of an allocation process. This, the operator argued, would reduce the cost of licences and allow more money to be spent on network infrastructure.

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.