Ofcom sets January date for 5G auction amid network concerns
BRITAIN’S delayed 5G spectrum auction will go ahead in January despite calls for the process to be scrapped from mobile networks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Matt Warman, the digital infrastructure minister, confirmed yesterday that the auction would go ahead for the 700Mhz slice of mobile spectrum, which is expected to improve coverage and speeds in rural areas.
Speaking at 5G World, part of London Tech Week, Mr Warman said a massive programme of retuning TV airwaves had freed up bandwidth that could be used for 5G spectrum. This had seen 20 million household TVs switched on to lower frequencies.
“We have overseen a quiet revolution in the airwaves which will lead to better mobile coverage for rural communities and unlock new ways for 5G to boost business productivity and improve people’s lives,” he said. But mobile operators, in particular Vodafone and Three, have been lobbying against plans for the auction from Ofcom, which was delayed from the spring.
The auction is a competitive process where networks bid for a share of mobile waves. Operators wanted the auction scrapped and spectrum sold at the reserve price. Sources said they objected on the grounds a bidding process may be difficult due to Covid-19 and was normally conducted in person in sealed rooms.
Insiders also believe the auction will see as much as £500m extra raised for the Treasury, which will be taken out of the networks. One source said: “The limitations of Covid-19 on an auction bid team are not practical. We would have preferred an allocation; we have been clear in public and private.”
Robert Finnegan, chief executive of Three, said: “While we recognise the pressures on the Treasury and appreciate their support to date, the Government has missed an opportunity to take a balanced approach given the extra costs faced by the mobile industry.”
A Vodafone spokesman said while the company would have preferred that the auction was scrapped, it was still asking Ofcom to consider acting on spectrum fragmentation.
An Ofcom spokesman said: “People and businesses need faster, more reliable mobile connections more than ever. So it’s vital we move forward and auction these airwaves as soon as possible. We’ve concluded on the rules for the auction, after extensive consultation with industry.
“We are continuing to develop plans for conducting the auction, making sure it takes place safely and securely, in light of the coronavirus.”