NMHH publishes 900/1800MHz auction documents; DIGI suspects bias

22 Sep 2020

Hungary’s National Media & Infocommunications Authority (Nemzeti Media- es Hirkozlesi Hatosag, NMHH) has published the draft documentation for auctioning 900MHz and 1800MHz mobile frequencies, including spectrum currently held by nationwide mobile network operators (MNOs) Magyar Telekom, Vodafone Hungary and Telenor Hungary which will expire in April 2022. Market participants may consult with the regulator on the auction plans until 29 September 2020, with the procedural details expected to be finalised in October and the spectrum sale scheduled for completion in Q1 2021. New licences in the 900MHz (60MHz bandwidth) and 1800MHz (120MHz bandwidth) ranges will be valid for 15 years from April 2022, renewable for five years.

DIGI Hungary – the country’s newest and smallest MNO – issued a statement in response to the NMHH claiming that the draft documentation contains regulations that ‘make it difficult’ for DIGI to enter the auction, by setting criteria that could lead to DIGI’s bidding application being rejected, based on previous experiences of Hungarian spectrum sales. DIGI added that the auction should be neutral, fair and in line with European law and practices, thus creating greater competition.

In March 2020 the NMHH awarded Telekom, Telenor and Vodafone 15-year licences including 5G spectrum in the 700MHz and 3600MHz bands despite a pending legal action from DIGI, which had its bid application rejected by the regulator in September 2019 for failing to meet eligibility criteria. DIGI argues that excluding it from the upcoming 900MHz/1800MHz tender would force it to continue limiting its mobile customer capacity, with the potential for expansion highly dependent on available frequencies.

TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database shows that DIGI launched its 2G/4G cellular network in May 2019 using its 2×5MHz spectrum allocation in the 1800MHz band (valid until 2029), offering mobile services exclusively for fixed internet, TV or telephony subscribers of the group, and to date the MNO service remains unavailable to non-bundling customers. By the beginning of 2020, DIGI’s mobile population coverage reached 78% (based on outdoor voice signal) and it has continued to expand the footprint, most recently disclosing that it covered 650 settlements by the start of September 2020, up from 549 settlements claimed in June.