British telecoms regulator Ofcom has outlined the rules that will apply to its forthcoming auction of 5G-suitable spectrum. The regulator plans to sell national licences for 80MHz of spectrum in the 700MHz band and 120MHz in the 3.6GHz-3.8GHz bands, ahead of which it has confirmed there will be no coverage obligations attached to the concessions on offer. The watchdog said its decision to omit obligations comes after the nation’s mobile network operators (MNOs) committed to achieving more comprehensive mobile coverage via the ‘Shared Rural Network’ programme, measures – Ofcom considers – that would have been enforceable via coverage obligations. The commitments made by the cellcos under the Shared Rural Network programme have been agreed with the government, are now included in cellco’s existing spectrum licences, and are legally binding.
Meanwhile, Ofcom has also confirmed that there will be a cap of 416MHz on the total amount of spectrum designated for mobile services that any single MNO may hold. In terms of the sale process itself, the regulator has revealed that the auction will include a principal stage, using a simultaneous multiple round ascending (SMRA) format – in which bidding for frequency-generic lots will determine the amount of spectrum won by each bidder in each band – and a subsequent assignment stage to determine the precise frequencies of lots won in the principal stage. The latter phase will reportedly contain measures to defragment MNOs’ holdings in the wider 3.4GHz-3.8GHz band, ‘including a period for negotiation in which winners of lots in the 3.6GHz-3.8GHz band will be able to agree between them the precise frequencies of those lots’.
In terms of the next steps toward conducting the auction, Ofcom noted that during the course of its consultation process a number of stakeholders had indicated that they might consider seeking a judicial review of its final decisions. To that end, the regulator has suggested that any claim for judicial review should be brought promptly – specifically within six weeks of its statement – with a request that the courts expedite the matter. Having also published a final draft of the Auction Regulations which will give effect to its decision, Ofcom said it intends to issue the final rules ‘once [it is] certain that stakeholders will either not seek to challenge the decisions set out in this statement, or any such challenges have been disposed of’.