Telecoms regulator Ofcom announced that it had accepted applications to take part in the forthcoming auction from the big four mobile network operators (MNOs) in the UK, EE, O2, Three and Vodafone, as well as from Airspan Spectrum Holdings and Connexin.
Ofcom's rules prevent MNOs holding more than 255 MHz of "immediately useable spectrum" following the auction, whilst no operator would be allowed to hold more than 340 MHz of the total spectrum that will be available at the conclusion of both auctions – 340MHz is 37% of the total spectrum that is expected to be useable in 2020.
Due to existing spectrum held by the company, Ofcom's caps mean that BT/EE is prohibited from bidding for spectrum in the 4G auction, and limited to winning up to 85MHz of spectrum in the 5G auction. Vodafone also faces limits on the spectrum it can win in the auctions.
'Immediately useable spectrum' concerns the 40 MHz of spectrum being made available within the 2.3 GHz band to support 4G services. A further 150 MHz is to be auctioned off in the 3.4 GHz band for future 5G services.
The six companies have until 2 March to advise Ofcom whether they intend to proceed to take part in the auction or withdraw from the process.
Philip Marnick, Ofcom’s spectrum group director, said: "We’re pressing ahead with the auction to make these airwaves available as quickly as possible. This will benefit today’s mobile users by providing more capacity for mobile broadband use. It will also pave the way for 5G – allowing operators to launch the next generation of mobile technology.”