Ofcom aims to kick off the process to award spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands

U.K. telecommunications regulator Ofcom has updated the timetable for setting the regulations that will apply to the forthcoming auction of spectrum in the 2.3 GHz and 3.4 GHz bands designed to support 5G deployment efforts. 

“Ofcom believes it is in the public interest for the auction to take place as soon as possible in light of the significant and strong demand for access to the spectrum, and the immediate and direct benefits to consumers of faster, higher quality mobile data services that can be offered using the spectrum,” the regulator said in a statement.

Ofcom 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. The regulator said 40 megahertz of spectrum will be auctioned in the 2.3 GHz band and 150 megahertz of spectrum will be auctioned in the 3.4GHz band.

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

In September 2017, Three has filed a legal challenge against Ofcom relating to the terms of the proposed 5G spectrum. Last year, the regulator had 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/5Gauction but also the 700 MHz band.

In its claim, the telco 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.

Following an expedited court process which recognized the strong public interest in proceeding with the auction, the High Court upheld Ofcom’s decision and dismissed both claims on 20 December 2017. However, Three has now sought permission to appeal on to the court of appeal. The court of appeal is also expediting that appeal, which will be heard on 13 and 14 February 2018.

“The litigation by Three is continuing to delay access to the spectrum and the benefits to consumers and businesses that can flow from it. We are keen to ensure that we can move as quickly as possible to hold the auction once the judgment of the Court of Appeal has been given,” Ofcom said.

According to the updated timetable, Ofcom aims to publish the regulations for the 5G spectrum auction on 24 January. These regulations will come into force on 31 January.

On 24 January, the watchdog will also publish guidance for potential bidders, in which it will explain the process to take part in the auction. Once the regulations are in force, Ofcom said it will confirm the date for when we will be accepting applications, which will be around seven days after the regulations come into force.

“We propose to commence the steps necessary to decide whether to qualify applicants to participate in the auction immediately after application day. We will stop short of formally qualifying bidders until after the court of appeal’s decision is announced, and all parties know whether Ofcom’s decision to impose an overall spectrum cap at 340 MHz is upheld.”

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