UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has confirmed that bidding has begun in what it has termed ‘the UK’s largest ever mobile spectrum auction’, with claims that the spectrum on offer ‘will almost double the amount of airwaves currently available for mobile broadband services on smartphones, tablets and laptops’. In making the announcement, the watchdog reiterated that there are seven companies taking part in the sale process: EE, the country’s largest cellco by subscribers; HKT (UK) Company Limited, a subsidiary of Hong Kong’s PCCW Limited; Hutchison 3G UK; MLL Telecom; Niche Spectrum Ventures, a subsidiary of UK fixed line incumbent BT Group; Telefonica UK; and Vodafone UK.
With a view to ensuring competition, Ofcom said it has designed the auction to ensure that at least four different companies emerge from it with enough spectrum to become ‘credible national 4G wholesalers’. In total there are 28 lots of spectrum up for grabs in two separate bands – 800MHz and 2.6GHz – with up to 250MHz of additional mobile spectrum available, compared to the 333MHz currently in use in the UK. Bidding will be conducted over several rounds over secure connections using software developed specifically for the auction, with the results of the sale process not expected to be known for ‘a number of weeks’. Further, the regulator has confirmed that it will not issue updates on bidding activity until the end of the auction. Subsequently, once any relevant fees are paid and licences are actually awarded, it is expected that operators will begin rolling out services using the new frequencies from late spring 2013.
Commenting on the development, Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said: ‘Today’s 4G auction is a very significant milestone for the UK’s communications sector … It will release the essential raw material for the next wave of mobile digital services. This will change the way we consume digital media in both our personal and working lives and deliver significant benefits to millions of consumers and businesses across the country.’