U.K. telecommunications regulator Ofcom has confirmed plans to release additional spectrum for the provision of 5G services in spring 2020.
In a statement, Ofcom said that the auction will include 80 megahertz in the 700 MHz band and 120 megahertz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band to support the expansion of 5G services across the U.K.
Ofcom also said that the country’s four mobile operators had agreed to cooperate on improving rural coverage, which will make the regulator to drop a previous proposal to include coverage obligations in spectrum licenses.
Ofcom said that EE, O2, Vodafone and Three have discussed with the government and Ofcom an alternative “Shared Rural Network”plan to deliver good-quality 4G coverage to at least 92% of the UK over six years. The government has also confirmed it will provide £500 million ($642.5 million) of funding for the plan.
The regulator highlighted that it will include binding conditions into the operator’s spectrum licenses to make sure the carrier will fulfill with the terms of the coverage plan.
“In light of the commitments, we are no longer proposing to include coverage obligations in our auction. This is because through the companies working together, the agreement will achieve higher coverage than the requirements we could have set through an auction,” Ofcom said.
“We are releasing 80 MHz of spectrum in the 700 MHz band. These airwaves are ideal for providing good-quality mobile coverage, both indoors and across very wide areas – including the countryside. Releasing these airwaves will also boost the capacity of today’s mobile networks – offering customers a more reliable service,” Ofcom said.
Ofcom also highlighted that the spectrum to be released in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band is “part of the primary band for 5G and are capable of carrying lots of data-hungry connections in concentrated areas. All four of the biggest mobile companies have launched 5G this year, and releasing these airwaves will help increase the capacity and quality of mobile data services.”
For next year’s auction, Ofcom said it will use a format known as “simultaneous multiple round ascending”. In this approach, operators first bid for airwaves in separate lots to determine how much spectrum each company wins. In a second phase, the carriers participate in a round of bidding to determine the specific frequencies that winning bidders will be allocated.
The regulator explained that winners of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum will have an opportunity within the assignment stage to negotiate their placements within the band among themselves.
Ofcom also reiterated that it is still proposing to place a 37% cap on the overall spectrum that any one operator can hold following the auction ,to ensure that spectrum is used efficiently and that there is strong competition among carriers.
Philip Marnick, spectrum group director at Ofcom, said: “We’re pressing ahead with plans to release vital airwaves to improve mobile services for customers. Together with mobile companies’ commitments to improve coverage, this will help more areas get better services and help the UK maintain its place as a leader in 5G.”
Ofcom said that operators have time until December 9 to make comments about the spectrum proposal. Ofcom aims to publish its final decision on this tender process in early 2020, before starting the auction in the spring.