Ofcom delays 4G spectrum auction pending merger decisions

4 Dec 2015

UK telecoms regulator Ofcom has announced a delay to the auction of spectrum in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands.

As previously reported by CommsUpdate, in October 2015 Ofcom unveiled details of its planned frequency auction, which had been due to take place early next year. A total of 190MHz of high-capacity spectrum is to be offered across the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands as part of a wider government initiative to free up public sector spectrum – made available by the Ministry of Defence – for civil uses. With the frequencies ‘particularly suited for high-speed mobile broadband services, because they can carry large amounts of data’, Ofcom at that date set a reserve price of GBP70 million (USD107 million), with no cap on the amount of spectrum any one company can acquire.

In a statement confirming the delay to the sale process, Ofcom cited the fact that the Competition Market Authority’s (CMA’s) decision on the proposed merger between BT and EE is expected next month, while a ruling by the European Commission (EC) on a tie-up between O2 UK and Hutchison 3G UK (Three UK) is due by mid-May 2016. The watchdog noted that last month it received letters from both O2 UK and Three UK stating their respective intentions to bring judicial review proceedings against Ofcom’s decision to commence the auction process before the EC makes a decision on the O2/Three merger. In light of this, and after ‘careful consideration’, Ofcom said that ‘given these specific circumstances, we have decided for reasons of good public administration to delay commencing the auction process’. The regulator has not yet rescheduled a date for the spectrum auction.