Ofcom announces winners of the 4G mobile auction

It was announced this morning the winners and losers of the 4G LTE spectrum auctions.

Ofcom reported: ‘After more than 50 rounds of bidding, Everything Everywhere Ltd, Hutchison 3G UK Ltd, Niche Spectrum Ventures Ltd (a subsidiary of BT Group plc), Telefónica UK Ltd and Vodafone Ltd have all won spectrum. This is suitable for rolling out new superfast mobile broadband services to consumers and to small and large businesses across the UK.

The auction has achieved Ofcom’s purpose of promoting strong competition in the 4G mobile market. This is expected to lead to faster mobile broadband speeds, lower prices, greater innovation, new investment and better coverage. Almost the whole UK population will be able to receive 4G mobile services by the end of 2017 at the latest. A total of 250 MHz of spectrum was auctioned in two separate bands – 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz. This is equivalent to two-thirds of the radio frequencies currently used by wireless devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.

The lower-frequency 800 MHz band is part of the ‘digital dividend’ freed up when analogue terrestrial TV was switched off, and is ideal for widespread mobile coverage. The higher-frequency 2.6 GHz band is ideal for delivering the capacity needed for faster speeds. The availability of the two will allow 4G networks to achieve widespread coverage as well as offering capacity to cope with significant demand in urban centres.

Ed Richards, Ofcom Chief Executive, said: “This is a positive outcome for competition in the UK, which will lead to faster and more widespread mobile broadband, and substantial benefits for consumers and businesses across the country. We are confident that the UK will be among the most competitive markets in the world for 4G services. “4G coverage will extend far beyond that of existing 3G services, covering 98% of the UK population indoors – and even more when outdoors – which is good news for parts of the country currently underserved by mobile broadband. “We also want consumers to be well informed about 4G, so we will be conducting research at the end of this year to show who is deploying services, in which areas and at what speeds. This will help consumers and businesses to choose their most suitable provider.”

Widespread 4G coverage

Ofcom has attached a coverage obligation to one of the 800 MHz lots of spectrum. The winner of this lot is Telefónica UK Ltd. This operator is obliged to provide a mobile broadband service for indoor reception to at least 98% of the UK population (expected to cover at least 99% when outdoors) and at least 95% of the population of each of the UK nations – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – by the end of 2017 at the latest.


Who won what and the prices to be paid vary from £186m for H3G through to nearly £791m for Vodafone:

Winning bidder Spectrum won Base price
Everything Everywhere Ltd 2 x 5 MHz of 800 MHz and
2 x 35 MHz of 2.6 GHz
Hutchison 3G UK Ltd 2 x 5 MHz of 800 MHz £225,000,000
Niche Spectrum Ventures Ltd (a subsidiary of BT Group plc) 2 x 15 MHz of 2.6 GHz and
1 x 20 MHz of 2.6 GHz (unpaired)
Telefónica UK Ltd 2 x 10 MHz of 800 MHz
(coverage obligation lot)
Vodafone Ltd 2 x 10 MHz of 800 MHz,
2 x 20 MHz of 2.6 GHz and
1 x 25 MHz of 2.6 GHz (unpaired)
Total £2,341,113,000

Two bidders MLL Telecom and HKT UK did not win any spectrum.

Rethink Wireless commented: Telefonica (O2) has the heaviest obligations attached to its licence. It acquired the 2 x 10MHz in the 800MHz band which was assigned a coverage mandate – to support indoor reception for at least 98% of the UK population (99% outdoors expected), and at least 95% of the population of each of the UK nations, by the end of 2017 at the latest. Vodafone also got 2 x 10MHz in 800MHz, though with no obligations. These two operators were particularly keen to get spectrum in the sub-1GHz band, which is ideal for broad coverage and indoor penetration.

Overall, Vodafone was the biggest spender, laying out £790.76m, followed by EE on £588.87m and O2 on £550m. 3UK spent £225M and NSV £186.47m.

Next steps

While the main part of the auction has concluded, there is a final stage to determine where in the 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands each winning bidder’s new spectrum will be located. Bidding in this final stage – called the ‘assignment stage’ – will take place shortly. Following that and once bidders have paid their full licence fees, Ofcom will grant licences to the winners to use the spectrum. Operators will then be able to start rolling out their networks, with consumer services expected in spring or early summer 2013.

‘5G’ possible for the future

By 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today. To help meet this demand and avert a possible ‘capacity crunch’, more mobile spectrum is needed over the long term, together with new technologies to make mobile broadband more efficient. Ofcom is planning now to support the release of further spectrum for possible future ‘5G’ mobile services.

Cell:cm Director Andrew Cranston said “the operators will be keen to implement their ‘4G’ roll out as soon as they can following the grant of their licences from Ofcom. Cell:cm’s advice is to be vigilant with any requests by your operator licensees and tenants to upgrade their sites or add further equipment. This may be contrary to their permitted rights with site owners. If you are in any doubt please contact Cell:cm Chartered Surveyors for more advice. “

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