UK agrees to shared rural 4G network, drops coverage obligation for 5G

The UK telecoms and media regulator, Ofcom, has announced plans for its second 5G-centric auction, but has dropped plans for a coverage obligation in the 700 MHz band, because it has also announced proposals for a Shared Rural Network (SRN) to bring LTE to underserved areas.

Ofcom will hold the auction for 700 MHz and 3.6 GHz spectrum in spring 2020 and is holding a period of public consultation until December 9. It has not announced a date to auction millimeter wave spectrum.

The previous week, the regulator announced plans for the SRN, which aims to provide high quality LTE to 95% of the population, and 92% of the landmass, by 2025, with further improvements after that. For remote rural areas, which are tough for operators to address profitably because of sparse populations, there will be a single network shared by all four MNOs (BT/EE, Vodafone, O2 and Three).

That means that previous plans to impose coverage oblications on the 700 MHz licences – of 90% coverage of the landmass by 2025 – have been dropped.

The auction will include 80 MHz of 700 MHz spectrum and 120 MHz of 3.6-3.8 GHz spectrum. There will be an overall cap on the amount of spectrum any single operator can own, of 37% of the total spectrum available.

In stage one of the sale, candidates will bid for lots, to determine how much spectrum they win in each category; in stage two, specific frequencies will be assigned and operators can swap lots to reduce fragmentation. There will be six lots of 2×5 MHz in the 700 MHz band; four lots of 5 MHz in another section of 700 MHz which supports supplemental downlink (SDL) only; and 24 lots of 5 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band.