British airwaves auction announced as Ofcom prepares for 5G rollout

The UK is set to release further mobile airwaves through an auction in spring 2020

The UK’s airwaves are a limited resource integral to the provision of wireless services, such as mobile phones. The Office of Communications (Ofcom), the government-approved regulatory and competition authority for the UK’s broadcasting, telecommunications and postal industries, manages this supply.

The announcement of an airwaves auction comes as the UK Government steps up its rollout of 5G technology. Promising mobile data speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second, 5G is expected to be 100 times faster than the current 4G technology.

The introduction of this new technology has stoked geopolitical rivalries. Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei Technologies has spearheaded the development of 5G, much to the United States’ chagrin. This weekend a senior Whitehall source told The Sunday Times that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans to grant Huawei access to Britain’s future 5G network, in a move expected to sour relations with his US counterpart Donald Trump.

Ofcom will welcome bids for part of the primary network band for 5G, auctioning off 120 MHz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band. It will also take bids on 80 MHz of spectrum in the lower 700 MHz band.

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The UK’s largest mobile providers, Vodafone (VOD), O2 (TEF), EE (BT) and Three (0215.HK) have launched 5G this year. All four companies have agreed to ensure, with the help of government subsidies, that this new technology reaches the countryside as well as Britain’s towns.

The regulator plans a 37 per cent limit on the overall spectrum that a single mobile company can hold following the auction.

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