Ofcom confirmed the spectrum auction will begin on March 20

U.K. telecommunications services regulator Ofcom has approved six companies to take part in its upcoming auction of spectrum for 4G and 5G services, which is expected to begin later this month.  Ofcom aims to award 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band and 40 megahertz of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz band. The regulator said that part of the spectrum to be auctioned – the 2.3 GHz band – can be used by mobile carriers immediately to improve services, while the 3.4 GHz spectrum band can be used for future 5G mobile services.

Ofcom said the six companies approved to bid in the auction are EE (BT), O2 (Telefonica), Vodafone, Three (Hutchison 3G UK), Connexin Limited and Airspan Spectrum Holdings.  

“We’re pressing ahead with the auction to make these airwaves available as quickly as possible. This will benefit today’s mobile users by providing more capacity for mobile broadband use. It will also pave the way for 5G – allowing operators to launch the next generation of mobile technology,” said Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s spectrum group director.

Ofcom had initially planned to hold the 5G spectrum auction in 2017, but it has been delayed by litigation brought by local carriers Three and BT/EE.

In September 2017, Three filed a legal challenge against Ofcom relating to the terms of the proposed 5G spectrum. Last year, the regulator announced it would impose an additional cap of 340 megahertz on the overall amount of mobile spectrum a single operator can hold as a result of the auction. This cap amounts to 37% of all the mobile spectrum expected to be useable in 2020, which includes not only the spectrum available in the 4G/5G auction but also the 700 MHz band.

In its claim, Three said Ofcom should impose a 30% limit on spectrum allocated to any single operator in a bid to weaken the mobile data market dominance of EE and Vodafone. The company has rejected Ofcom’s proposed limit of 37% as inadequate. On that same month, EE also filed a legal appeal around Ofcom’s forthcoming 4G/5G spectrum auction. The specific aim of the suit was to stop Three’s own legal challenge and intention to impose a 30% limit on spectrum allocated to any single operator.

The High Court rejected these claims in December 2017, and earlier this month, the Court of Appeal refused Three permission to appeal that decision.

U.K telcos are getting ready in order to launch 5G services in the country. In November 2017, BT, in partnership with Nokia and the University of Bristol have announced a live proof of concept (PoC) based on the 5G standard is designed to test and validate smart urban applications over next-generation mobile network.

The PoC will use research expertise from the University of Bristol, as well as 5G network solutions and radio access points from Nokia combined with spectrum from BT. The test network will run over the Bristol City Council’s dedicated fiber infrastructure around Bristol’s Millennium Square.

In December last year, Vodafone U.K. and Ericsson announced they have successfully tested standalone pre-standard 5G using a prototype device in a central London 3.5 GHz spectrum field trial. The two companies said the 5G trial was carried out in partnership with academics at King’s College London.

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