Sunday, 07 March 2021

Ofcom delays spectrum auction due to Covid

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Monday 25 January 21

Originally planned to take place this month, the regulator has taken the decision to move the auction to March

In a brief statement today, UK regulator Ofcom noted that it would be postponing the planned spectrum auction, moving the event to an unspecified date in March. The spectrum available is in the 700 MHz and 3.6–3.8 GHz bands, with the auction increasing the total spectrum available for UK operators by almost a fifth (18%)…

In a brief statement today, UK regulator Ofcom noted that it would be postponing the planned spectrum auction, moving the event to an unspecified date in March. The spectrum available is in the 700 MHz and 3.6–3.8 GHz bands, with the auction increasing the total spectrum available for UK operators by almost a fifth (18%).

In a brief statement, the regulator did not name a specific reason for the decision, but did broadly cite ‘the coronavirus situation’.

“Throughout our planning for the auction we have been closely monitoring the coronavirus situation. Following a pause in the auction process, we are now planning for the principal stage of the auction (the start of bidding) to begin in March 2021. We will continue to monitor developments,” read an update posted today on the Ofcom website. 

Back in August last year, the regulator announced confirmation of its plans to start the bidding process in January 2021. This had met some resistance by some of the UK operators, who argued that the coronavirus pandemic should warrant Ofcom simply allocating spectrum to each of the operators at the reserve price. Some also continued to argue, as they had back in March, that the regulator should intervene to defragment the spectrum currently owned by the operators.

Ofcom rejected both of these pleas, writing to the operators to explain that there was no feasible way for them to simply allocate the spectrum quickly, efficiently, and fairly in light of their duties. Similarly, they reiterated that they were not obligated to defragment the available spectrum owned by the operators and that they would instead facilitate spectrum trades between the operators where possible.

Sadly, it seems the operators will be forced to wait even longer to get their hands on the next batch of 5G spectrum. Perhaps worse, with the coronavirus death toll in the UK the highest in Europe, the chances of the pandemic situation improving significantly by March seem slim. There is every chance that Ofcom will delay the auction process even further, likely until the coming summer, unless there has been significant improvement over the next couple of months. 

 

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