The UK telecoms regulator, Ofcom, has confirmed that the UK’s first millimetre-wave (mmWave) spectrum auction is set to accelerate the nationwide 5G blanket. This announcement fortifies plans initially confirmed in September.
The auction will span across the 26GHz and 40GHz spectrum bands. These bands are highly anticipated by mobile operators to bolster faster 5G speeds across 68 UK-based towns and cities. The auction also plans to assign more localized licenses within these areas under the shared access licensing framework.
In an official statement, Ofcom remarked, “We are making large amounts of spectrum in the 26 GHz and 40 GHz bands available for new services, including 5G. The spectrum offers operators the opportunity to access very large contiguous blocks of frequencies, enabling innovative services and very high capacity and speeds.”
Four notable mobile operators in the UK, namely EE, Virgin Media O2, Vodafone, and Three UK, already leverage 5G spectrum in the 700MHz to 3.8GHz bands. These bands are predominantly used to provide 5G mobile services and, in some specific scenarios, fixed wireless access.
By introducing the new mmWave spectrum 5G, even faster speeds and higher capacities are expected than the existing 5G spectrum. Nonetheless, these frequencies bear a drawback. Their signals can be easily disrupted, thus limiting their range and penetration. This characteristic implies that mmWave 5G would be most effective in densely populated environments, as Ofcom has continued to assert.
The auction has been split into three sections namely, 26 GHz lower (25.1–26.5 GHz), 26 GHz upper (26.5–27.5 GHz), and 40 GHz (40.5–43.5 GHz). Pricing is set, with reserve prices at £2m for each share of 26 GHz spectrum and £1m for each share of 40 GHz spectrum.
The 26GHz spectrum is bifurcated into two parts due to “limitations on deployment of the new uses of spectrum over the next five years or so while some incumbent fixed links continue to operate in the 25.1-26.5 GHz segment of the band in and around high-density areas”.
Ofcom has released a preliminary consultation statement where it invites comments on the raised issues by 9th January next year. However, the auction will not commence until a verdict has been delivered concerning the Vodafone–Three merger by the Competition and Markets Authority. This decision is slotted for no sooner than September next year.