5G auction to boost mobile speed and coverage

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Mobile tower

The auction of the airwaves that will create faster mobile services for rural areas and hasten the rollout of 5G has ended, with all four operators pleased with their haul.

The sell-off of chunks of spectrum in the 700-megahertz and 3.6-3.8-gigahertz bands raised £1.3bn for the government.

EE, Three, O2 and Vodafone all gained a share, much of which will be used to boost their 5G networks.

Ofcom said it should also improve coverage.

‘Transformative effect’

The 700MHz band is best suited to rural and in-building coverage, while the 3.6-3.8GHz frequencies are better for 5G as they allow greater levels of data transfer.

Ofcom group director of spectrum Philip Marnick said: “This is an important step forward in bringing better mobile services to people wherever they live, work and travel.”

Three said it had won enough of the 700MHz band to triple the amount of low-frequency spectrum it owned.

“It will have a transformative effect on our customers’ experience indoors and in rural areas”, it said.

‘High-speed connectivity’

EE and O2, meanwhile, gained spectrum in both bands, which they said would be used to grow their 5G networks.

And Vodafone acquired spectrum in the 3.6-3.8GHz band, which it said would bring “high-speed connectivity and open up new opportunities for products and services”.

The price raised is small compared with previous auctions. The 4G spectrum sell-off raised £2.3bn for the government, while the 3G auction netted £22.5bn.

“The swift conclusion of the auction and the relatively modest overall spend is good news for UK 5G,” CCS Insight analyst Kester Mann said.

The auction will now enter an assignment phase, which will see the operators jockeying for position within their frequency bands.

And this could prove more controversial.

“This process may be more competitive than in previous auctions, as Vodafone and O2, for example, reportedly expressed concern at the fragmented nature of the sale,” Mr Mann said.