The upcoming auction of 5G spectrum is set to be delayed once again due the coronavirus pandemic.
A total of 200MHz of spectrum is up for grabs, including 80MHz worth of long-range 700MHz frequencies freed up by Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT), and 120MHz worth of mid-band 3.6-3.8GHz airwaves.
Regulator Ofcom confirmed EE, O2, Three and Vodafone as qualified bidders earlier this month but warned another Covid-related delay was possible. The auction had been planned for Spring 2020 but this was pushed back to January due to the pandemic. Now it won’t take place until at least March.
“Throughout our planning for the auction we have been closely monitoring the coronavirus situation,” it said. “Following a pause in the auction process, we are now planning for the principal stage of the auction (the start of bidding) to begin in March 2021.
“We will continue to monitor developments.”
The spectrum up for auction represents an 18% increase in the amount of bandwidth available to operators and is considered vital for the rollout of commercial 5G services. Prior to the pandemic, it was feared legal challenges could delay the process and jeopardise the potential benefits of the spectrum.
“We’re disappointed the auction will now be delayed although we understand the unique circumstances,” said a BT spokesperson. “The auction and subsequent release of spectrum remains central to the future rollout of mobile networks and 5G. The economy’s recovery from Covid-19 is dependent on resilient digital infrastructure and we urge Ofcom to resist any further requests for delays.”
O2, Three and Vodafone have been contacted for comment.