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UK mobile operators celebrate 4G auction success

Michael Garwood
February 20, 2013

EE (T-Mobile, Orange and 4GEE), Three, O2 and Vodafone all successful with their bids – and will launch 4G services this year

The results of the 4G auction have been announced today (February 20), paving the way for mass market 4G speeds and services in the UK.

After more than 50 rounds of bidding EE, who launched 4G services in the UK in November, O2, Three, Vodafone and BT subsiduary Niche Spectrum Venture were all successful.

A total of 250MHz of spectrum was auctioned in two separate bands – 800MHz and 2.6GHz. This is equivalent to two-thirds of the radio frequencies currently used by wireless devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.

The lower-frequency 800MHz band is part of the ‘digital dividend’ freed up when analogue terrestrial TV was switched off, and is ideal for widespread mobile coverage. The higher-frequency 2.6 GHz band is ideal for delivering the capacity needed for faster speeds. The availability of the two will allow 4G networks to achieve widespread coverage as well as offering capacity to cope with significant demand in urban centres.

Vodafone said in a statement it has acquired spectrum of 2 x 10MHz in the 800MHz band and 2 x 20MHz in the 2.6GHz band plus an additional 25 MHz of unpaired spectrum in the 2.6 GHz band. The spectrum licences are all indefinite in length and have an initial term of 20 years. The total amount payable is £790m.

Vodafone UK chief executive Guy Laurence said: “We’ve secured the low frequency mobile phone spectrum that will support the launch of our ultra-fast 4G service later this year. It will enable us to deliver services where people really want it, especially indoors. This is great news for our customers. The next generation of mobile internet services will bring real benefits to both consumers and businesses.”

EE confirmed it has won 2x5MHz 800MHz and 2x35MHz of 2.6GHz, at a price of £588,876,000.

EE CEO Olaf Swantee said: “EE is extremely pleased with the outcome of the spectrum auction. Coupled with our existing 1800MHz 4G network, it consolidates our position as the most advanced, largest and most capable 4G operator in the UK.

“The acquisition of low and high frequency spectrum allows us to boost our superfast data services and coverage – indoors and outdoors, in cities and the countryside.

“This result means that we are perfectly placed to meet future data capacity demands – further enhancing the superfast 4G services we already offer the UK’s consumers and businesses.”

Telefónica UK (O2) revealed this morning it has invested £550million to secure 2x10MHz of spectrum at 800MHz. The acquisition of this block of spectrum underpins its commitment to ensure the widest and deepest possible reach for new services and will see O2’s 4G network provide indoor coverage to 98 per cent of the UK population. The company has already begun upgrading its network grid to offer 4G capability.

O2 CEO Ronan Dunne said, “Today, Telefónica has made a significant investment in next-generation 4G technology for the UK. While 4G will indeed allow for faster data speeds and a more seamless mobile experience, it is our intention to go beyond what has already been offered in the market and give our customers a unique and exclusive range of digital experiences, marking a new generation for the mobile industry.

“This is a truly landmark moment for the UK, presenting a wealth of opportunity to transform mainstream services to improve people’s lives. Now the investment has been made for 4G to become a nationwide reality, we want all organisations across all sectors to ensure the true value of 4G is realised, so that together we can make Britain truly digital.”

Three CEO Dave Dyson also commented: “Consumer appetite for enjoying the internet via mobile devices continues to grow, playing to our strengths. With a significantly increased spectrum holding we will continue to be the competitive force in the UK mobile market.

“We have more than doubled our spectrum holdings in the past 12-months thanks to spectrum acquired at auction and outside the auction process. Doubling our capacity allows us to continue our growth with significant headroom to increase our current base of over 8m customers.”


Ofcom raised £2.4 billion from the auction – more than a billion less than it had originally predicted (£3.5 billion).

The regulator said in a statement this morning that the auction has achieved its purpose of promoting strong competition in the 4G mobile market. This is expected to lead to faster mobile broadband speeds, lower prices, greater innovation, new investment and better coverage. Almost the whole UK population will be able to receive 4G mobile services by the end of 2017 at the latest.

It added that by 2030, demand for mobile data could be 80 times higher than today and is planning now to support the release of further spectrum for possible future ‘5G’ mobile services.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: “This is a positive outcome for competition in the UK, which will lead to faster and more widespread mobile broadband, and substantial benefits for consumers and businesses across the country. We are confident that the UK will be among the most competitive markets in the world for 4G services.

“4G coverage will extend far beyond that of existing 3G services, covering 98 per cent of the UK population indoors – and even more when outdoors – which is good news for parts of the country currently underserved by mobile broadband.

“We also want consumers to be well informed about 4G, so we will be conducting research at the end of this year to show who is deploying services, in which areas and at what speeds. This will help consumers and businesses to choose their most suitable provider.”


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