The UK’s top five operators were all successful in their bid to acquire 4G LTE spectrum, but the overall amount raised was below initial expectations.
Vodafone spent the most – €906 million on both 800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands – followed by EE, which spent €674 million to add to the 1800 MHz it has already used to launch its 4G service on.
O2 parent Telefónica spent €628 million and Three €257 million on 800 MHz spectrum.
BT, via its Niche Spectrum Ventures subsidiary, returned to the wireless arena by spending €213 million.
UK regulator Ofcom, which revealed there had been more than 50 rounds of bidding, said a total of 250 MHz of spectrum was auctioned, equivalent to two-thirds of the radio frequencies currently used by wireless devices such as tablets, smartphones and laptops.
It added “almost” the whole UK population will be able to receive 4G mobile services by the end of 2017 “at the latest”.
The total amount raised was €2.7 billion, below the €4 billion expected and well short of the €25 billion raised by the 3G auction.
However, Bengt Nordstrom, CEO of consultancy Northstream, said it would be “extremely short-sighted” if this was viewed as a missed opportunity.
“The less UK operators are forced to pay for spectrum, the more they are able to invest in building 4G networks and developing new services,” he commented.
Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said the auction result was “a positive outcome for competition” in the UK.
EE, which announced the impact the first two months of its 4G LTE roll out had had on its financial results on Tuesday, revealed it now had 40 percent market share of 4G spectrum in the UK.
“We are perfectly placed to meet future data capacity demands,” said CEO Olaf Swantee.
O2 CEO Ronan Dunne said it was his firm’s intention to “go beyond what has already been offered in the market”.
He added: “We want all organisations across all sectors to ensure the true value of 4G is realised.”
BT had already said it will not be building a national mobile network with the spectrum it has acquired.
CEO Ian Livingston commented: “This spectrum will complement our existing strategy of delivering a range of services using fixed and wireless broadband.”
MLL Telecom and HKT were the bidders to miss out. The former released a statement saying it was “naturally disappointed” not to have won any allocated spectrum.
Ovum analyst Matthew Howett said the auction result was “in many ways just the beginning”.
He added: “The hard part for operators now comes in convincing us to upgrade and take out 4G mobile subscriptions once services are launched by EE’s competitors in late spring/early summer of this year.”