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Ofcom confirms 4G/5G spectrum winners

The winners of the latest batch of spectrum to be released to mobile operators have been confirmed.

As more and more of us turn to streaming TV and radio across multiple devices, with ever increasing data allowances, the amount of spectrum available to each mobile network and how it is deployed across the UK becomes relevant to ensuring consumers don't miss out.

The new spectrum auctioned by Ofcom sits in the 2.3 and 3.4GHz bands, with capacity for 4G and future 5G services. Higher than the TV frequencies that will be auctioned off soon, the new spectrum is particularly suitable for low coverage, high density areas, such as city centres and major transport hubs. 

O2, owned by Telefonica, has won the entire 2.3GHz spectrum that was up for grabs, which will enable it to offer improved 4G services and speeds, particularly in congested areas: relevant for users who want to stream TV or radio on the go. GiffGaff, Tesco Mobile and Sky all use the O2 network, but the network has previously suffered from congestion in some areas due to having less 4G spectrum than its rivals. It has also won 40MHz of spectrum in the 3.4 GHz band, for future 5G services. O2 says it will start deploying the 2.3GHz spectrum within 24 hours of Ofcom giving it 'ability to deploy'.

EE won 40MHz of spectrum in the 3.4GHz band, also for future 5G services. The company was barred from bidding for any spectrum in the 2.3GHz band because it already had more mobile spectrum than anyone else: the company benefits from having inherited former T-Mobile and Orange spectrum, as well as additional spectrum that BT acquired before it took over EE.

Vodafone won 50MHz of spectrum in the 3.4GHz for its future 5G network, while the company behind mobile network 3, Hutchison 3G UK Limited won just 20MHz of 3.4GHz spectrum.

Spectrum in the 700MHz band will be released to mobile network operators early next decade.  The former Freeview TV frequencies are suitable to high coverage, low density areas. Combined with existing spectrum, this will allow a full 5G network to be set up across the UK.

5G will also facilitate additional benefits for industry and cater for additional connected devices or the internet of things.

Ofcom will now move to the ‘assignment’ stage, which is the last bidding stage of the auction. This is a short process, which allows companies who have won spectrum in the principal stage to bid to determine where in the frequency bands their new spectrum will be located.

After the end of the assignment stage, Ofcom will issue the winning bidders with licences to use the relevant spectrum within a few days, allowing them to begin putting it to use.

Philip Marnick, Spectrum Group Director at Ofcom said:
“This is good news for everyone who uses their mobile phone to access the internet. As a nation we’re using ever more mobile data on smartphones and mobile devices. Releasing these airwaves will make it quicker and easier to get online on the move. It will also allow companies to prepare for 5G mobile, paving the way for a range of smart, connected devices.”

The spectrum auction is one part of Ofcom’s work to improve mobile services. It will also be requiring mobile companies to extend their networks as the ex-TV frequencies are auctioned  next year.