Ofcom to release more mobile airwaves in Spring auction 2020

Ofcom has announced updated proposals to release crucial mobile airwaves to meet growing demand for mobile broadband and support the rollout of 5G.

Ofcom mobile spectrum airwaves auction planned for Spring 2020 - Office Phone Shop

To help improve mobile services and enable more people and businesses to access 5G networks, Ofcom plans to release more mobile airwaves through an auction in spring 2020.

In December 2018, Ofcom proposed inclusion of coverage obligations in its spectrum (UK airwaves) auctions. These would require mobile companies to increase coverage in rural areas, in exchange for winning discounted spectrum.

Following this, the four mobile network operators – BT/EE, O2, Three and Vodafone –discussed with Government and Ofcom an alternative ‘Shared Rural Network’ plan to deliver good quality 4G coverage to at least 92% of the UK over six years.

This agreement would achieve higher coverage than the requirements Ofcom could have set through an auction.

On 25 October 2019, the Government announced that the companies had each committed to reaching this target. The Government also confirmed it will provide £500 million of funding for the plan.

In light of these commitments, and due to the mobile network operators working together, Ofcom no longer proposes including coverage obligations in future spectrum auctions. However, to ensure the mobile companies stick to these commitments, Ofcom intends to write binding conditions into its spectrum licences. Ofcom will also monitor and report on their progress in meeting these new commitments.

The spectrum auction will involve companies bidding for spectrum in two different frequency bands.

Ofcom will release 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. These airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas – including the countryside. Releasing these airwaves will also boost the capacity of today’s mobile networks – offering customers a more reliable service.

120 MHz of spectrum will also be released in 3.6-3.8 GHz band. These important airwaves are part of the primary band for 5G and are capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas. All four of the biggest mobile companies have launched 5G this year, and releasing these airwaves will help increase the capacity and quality of mobile data services.

Ofcom has a duty to ensure spectrum is used efficiently.

To maintain strong competition, there will be a 37% cap imposed on the overall spectrum that any one mobile company can hold following the auction. Promoting strong competition between mobile companies is important because it leads to better services for customers.

Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom, said: “We’re pressing ahead with plans to release vital airwaves to improve mobile services for customers. Together with mobile companies’ commitments to improve coverage, this will help more areas get better services and help the UK maintain its place as a leader in 5G.”

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