5G auction coming in April after Three fails to block it

5G auction coming in April after Three fails to block it

The UK’s first 5G spectrum auction is set to begin in April, despite efforts from Three to change Ofcom’s bidding rules.

Whoever owns more of the 5G spectrum will be able to offer it to their customers, bringing them better and faster data across more of the country.

The spectrum for sale, which was previously reserved for military use by the Ministry of Defense, includes 150MHz of wavelengths in the 3.4GHz band.

This frequency band is incompatible with most current mobile technology, but will be vital to the rollout of 5G in the coming years.

While 5G is still several years from commercial availability, buying up key wavelengths is vital for the success of future 5G networks. The results of this auction will be the first strokes in shaping the UK’s digital landscape.

Ofcom announced in July 2017 that it would be limiting the amount of wireless spectrum any one company can own to 37% for its forthcoming auctions. In an effort to stave off the industry juggernauts, BT-owned EE and Three petitioned the courts to challenge Ofcom’s decision and restrict that limit to 30%.

Currently, BT/EE owns 42% of the wireless spectrum, compared to Three’s humble 14%.

The high court dismissed Three’s claim, but the company took their case to the court of appeals, with a spokesman arguing that “fairer distribution of spectrum is vital for UK consumers and the digital economy”.

On the other side of things, EE stated that they “don’t believe that spectrum caps in this auction are in the best interests of consumers”.

Legal battles between the networks and Ofcom are becoming typical in the lead-up to spectrum auctions, with similar squabbles delaying the 2013 4G auction by 18 months.

Ofcom has stated that “our priority has always been to release these airwaves as soon as possible”, and expressed disappointment at Three’s move to appeal the high court’s decision.

The court of appeals has now “very firmly rejected” Three’s request, removing the last barrier blocking the 5G auction.

5G is set for a 2020 launch, and is expected to completely reshape the world’s digital infrastructure – massively improving wireless connectivity and speeds, and enabling countless new innovations from the Internet of Things and mobile devices.

With the technology offering such exciting prospects, and Ofcom’s priority to rush the auctions along as fast as possible, have Three’s concerns over unfair competition been unjustly pushed aside?

Keeping the internet, and the infrastructure supporting it, fair and competitive is more important than ever – as the controversies surrounding the US’s net neutrality laws have made painfully clear.


Samuel Newman is a consumer journalist and blogger based in Sheffield.
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