UK 5G spectrum auction date set for January 2021

On 3 August 2020, Ofcom confirmed that the UK’s 5G auction would go ahead, with bidding starting in January 2021. The auction is set to increase the spectrum available for mobile in the UK by 18%. This should lead to better and faster mobile data services.

80MHz of spectrum will be auctioned in the (recently cleared) 700 MHz band and 120 MHz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8 MHz band.

Spectrum will be made available for bids in the following lots:

  • Six lots of 2×5 MHz (60 MHz in total) in the 700 MHz band with a reserve price of £100m per lot
  • Four lots of 5 MHz (20 MHz in total) of 700 MHz downlink-only spectrum, with a reserve price of £1m per lot
  • 24 lots of 5 MHz (120 MHz in total) of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum, with a reserve price of £20m per lot

Ofcom will use a ‘simultaneous multiple round ascending‘ auction format, and has both: (i) removed a discount on 2 lots (which previously carried coverage obligations); and (ii) resisted calls from the UK’s mobile industry to allocate spectrum through an administrative process that would lower the mobile industry’s costs, but reduce the UK government’s income from the auction. The coverage obligations were removed as a result of the UK mobile industry agreeing the Shared Rural Network plan.

To address Ofcom’s perception of competition concerns, Ofcom has imposed an overall 37% cap on overall spectrum holdings, which has the effect of restricting existing mobile companies to acquiring the following amounts of spectrum in these auctions:

  • BT/EE – 120 MHz
  • H3G – 185 MHz
  • Vodafone – 190 MHz

(Note: due to its relatively smaller current spectrum holdings, Telefonica O2 will not be restricted by the auction cap).

Ofcom also published guidance for potential applicants and bidders, available here: