British telecommunications regulator Ofcom laid out plans Monday for an auction of 190 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands that is expected to boost by one-third the total amount of mobile frequencies available to wireless carriers in the United Kingdom (UK). Plans covering the auction of licenses in these bands next year were published in a consultative document for which Ofcom has set a January 30 deadline for stakeholder comment. Specifically, the auction would encompass 40 MHz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band, which is already used by mobile devices in the UK. In the words of Ofcom, the remaining allotment of 150 MHz in the 3.4 GHz “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 a centerpiece in the rollout of future fifth-generation wireless services throughout Europe.
For the 2.3 GHz band, Ofcom is proposing a 255 MHz cap on the amount of “immediately usable” spectrum that any one operator may purchase. As a result, BT Group and its recently acquired unit Everything Everywhere (EE)—which, together, lead the UK in total usable spectrum holdings with a 45% share of the national wireless market—would be barred from bidding for licenses in the 2.3 GHz band. By comparison, wireless market rivals Vodafone, O2 and Three hold spectrum allotments of 28%, 15% and 3% of the national market, respectively. Explaining its rationale for the cap, Ofcom noted that, “if BT/EE were to acquire all of the 2.3 GHz [licenses] being awarded, it would have almost half of the immediately usable spectrum in the market.” Ofcom further noted that the proposed cap would effectively reduce BT/EE’s total usable spectrum share from 45% to 42%. Stressing that the 3.4 GHz band “is not immediately usable,” Ofcom affirmed that it had no plan to impose a cap for that band “because we believe it is important that operators are given an opportunity to acquire this spectrum so they are able to consider early development of 5G services.”
Declaring, “the UK has long benefited from strong mobile competition,” an Ofcom spokesman told reporters “we are designing the auction to ensure everyone benefits from a market that continues to innovate.” Meanwhile, in a press statement, Marc Allera, the CEO of EE, remarked: “while we don’t agree that competition measures should be introduced for this auction, we will examine Ofcom’s detailed proposal carefully and respond to the consultation.”