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MoD spectrum auction to go ahead in early 2016

Ofcom announces details of the upcoming auction of high-capacity spectrum owned by the Ministry of Defence

The auction of 190MHz of high-capacity spectrum currently owned by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is now to take place at the beginning of 2016, telecoms regulator Ofcom has revealed, as part of a wider spectrum release programme to share 500MHz of spectrum for civilian use by 2020.

The regulator had previously indicated it would conduct the auction in the autumn of 2015, with awards to be made in November. However, following the initial consultation this date has now slipped.

Ofcom did not say why the process was being delayed, but it is possible the ongoing uncertainty over the future of the UK mobile landscape, and the impact of its digital communications review, have had an impact.

The spectrum will be made available in the 2.3GHz and 3.4GHz bands, which are particularly suitable for high-speed mobile broadband services because they can carry much more data.

Both bands are already widely in use around the world for 4G services, with 2.3GHz being pressed into service in Australia, China and India, among others. The 3.4GHz band is in use around the European Union (EU) and in Canada, as well as in London, where UK Broadband uses it to support its Relish mobile broadband service.

The total amount of spectrum to be sold off is equivalent to three-quarters of that released during the 2013 4G auction. It is hoped this will help expand the capacity of existing 4G mobile networks, rather than their geographical coverage.

The 3.4GHz spectrum will be sold off in 5MHz lots, and the 2.3GHz spectrum in 10MHz lots, without coverage or "use-it-or-lose-it" obligations. Bidders will not be capped in how much of the spectrum they can buy. Ofcom has set a reserve price of £70m for the two tranches of spectrum.

Rising demand

The regulator said that as demand for mobile data service was expected to rise considerably in the next few years – particularly as progress is made towards the launch of 5G services in the early 2020s – more capacity was urgently needed, along with new technology to use spectrum more efficiently, such as small cells.

Ofcom spectrum group director Philip Marnick commented: “Spectrum is the essential resource which fuels the UK’s wireless economy. This auction is an important step in ensuring the UK has the wireless capability to deliver and support new technology.

“We’re responding to rapid change and innovation in the communications sector, which is placing greater demands on spectrum. Part of our plan to meet this demand is by making new spectrum available and allowing it to be used in a number of different ways.”

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