Ofcom has been setting out how it plans to sell off capacity in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz mobile bands. The auction of 190 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands will increase the available spectrum by about a third.
The 40 MHz of spectrum to be sold in the 2.3 GHz band is already supported by mobile devices, such as the iPhone. The airwaves could be used immediately after release to provide extra capacity, meaning faster downloads and internet browsing for consumers.
The 150 MHz of spectrum to be sold in the 3.4 GHz band is not currently used by most mobile devices, but is likely to be usable by future devices in coming years.
The 3.4 GHz band has also been identified as central to the rollout of 5G across Europe.
Philip Marnick, Ofcom Spectrum Group Director, said: “Spectrum is the essential resource that fuels the UK’s economy. This auction can help ensure that UK consumers can access the mobile data services they need, and that operators can continue to innovate and build for the future.”
Ofcom plans to place a cap of 255MHz, on “immediately useable” spectrum that any one operator can buy. It means BT/EE would not be able to bid for spectrum in the 2.3GHz band.
BT/EE currently holds 45% of immediately useable UK mobile spectrum. Vodafone holds 28%, O2 15% and Three 12%.
“The proposed restraints placed on BT/EE show that Ofcom is concerned that spectrum asymmetry could harm UK mobile competition over the coming years. However, they also raise questions as to why the BT/EE merger was waived through with such little fuss, without any apparent need to mandate divestment,” said Kester Mann, Principle Analyst, Operators at CCS Insight. “The auction is crucial to UK providers as it will likely represent the last opportunity to buy mobile spectrum for several years. The next major sale, expected to be the prized 700 MHz band, will not happen before 2020 at the very earliest.”
In the future Ofcom plans further spectrum releases including frequencies in the 700 MHz band, currently used by Freeview television and wireless microphones.