No UK mmWave auction any time soon as Ofcom launches new consultation

The UK still doesn't appear to be in any rush to allocate millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum, as UK telco regulator Ofcom provided a brief update on the finer details of its plans and launched yet another consultation.

Nick Wood

April 16, 2024

2 Min Read

Following its most recent consultation – which launched in November and closed in January – the watchdog said this week it has opted not to include a negotiation period during the assignment phase of the auction.

A negotiating period gives telcos the opportunity to agree for their respective spectrum allocations to be adjacent to one another, which Ofcom says can potentially reduce the costs of sharing radio equipment.

After some mulling, and following feedback from MNOs, Ofcom decided that it is unclear whether operators plan to actually engage in network sharing; that the cost benefits of spectrum adjacency are also unclear; and that it might be possible for operators to deploy shared networks even if their frequencies aren't adjacent.

However, Ofcom does plan to facilitate post-auction spectrum trading instead, which will give operators an opportunity to negotiate after the assignment phase but before licences are granted.

As previously reported, Ofcom intends to auction 5.4 GHz of mmWave spectrum, comprised of 2.4 GHz in the upper and lower 26 GHz band, and 3 GHz in the 40 GHz band.

The lower 26 GHz band is comprised of seven lots of 200 MHz in the 25.1-26.5 GHz band, while there are five lots of 200 MHz in the upper band, which spans 26.5-27.5 GHz. The 40 GHz band has been divided up into 15 lots of 200 MHz.

It has set a reserve of £2 million per lot in the 26 GHz band, and £1 million per lot of 40-GHz. Licences will be subnational, each one granting the winning bidder the right to roll out spectrum in high-density areas.

Those waiting for news on when the auction might actually take place will have to wait a bit longer though, because Ofcom has launched a fresh consultation.

This time around it wants feedback on the statutory instruments it intends to use in order to limit the number of available licences, and to permit licence trading. Interested parties have until 28 May to submit comments, which likely means a final decision probably won't be made until late summer at the earliest.

While working out the finer details is a necessary process to ensure a smooth-running auction that gives telcos the confidence to bid, this one has turned into a bit of saga.

Ofcom first announced it was considering thinking about allocating mmWave in May 2022. 10 months later, following a consultation, it announced that yes, it would auction said frequencies. It provisionally identified those it intended to put on the block, and launched another consultation.

Then, last November, Ofcom published its proposed auction rules and the reserve price, and launched another consultation for good measure.Hopefully after consultation number four, everyone involved will feel suitably consulted, and the UK can push on with allocating this spectrum.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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