Auctions for 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands drive awards in Q4 2020
Jan 14, 2021 by Toby Youell


Changes in the new iteration of the PolicyTracker Spectrum Database were dominated by auctions in the 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands. These bands are becoming core 5G bands.

The last three months of 2020 included 6 auctions and two beauty contests. Three of these auctions (Czechia, Cyprus, and Greece) comprised EU Member States selling licences for the 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands, among others, ahead of the Union’s deadline to do so at the end of 2020. Another EU Member State, Slovakia, also sold the 700 MHz band, as it had already assigned the 3.5 GHz band until 2025.

More than three-quarters of the 1,586.4 MHz of auctioned spectrum in Q4 2020 concerned spectrum in the 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands. The rest of the spectrum sold came from the 900 MHz, 1800 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz, 2.6 GHz, and 26 GHz bands.

The majority of EU countries still need to sell licences in one or more of the two core 5G bands, so we can expect more assignments in those bands in the years to come. Those countries are also supposed to award the 26 GHz band, but can wriggle out of doing so if there is no evidence of market demand. Greece, however, did the sell licences in the 26 GHz band, which sold for the equivalent of USD 0.0016 /MHz/POP.

Two countries outside of Europe, Egypt and Indonesia, also held auctions for the 2.6 GHz and 2.3 GHz band respectively. The two beauty contests took place in Trinidad and Tobago and Zambia, and concerned the 700 MHz and 800 MHz bands.

Auctions in the core 5G bands appear to be something of a bargain for operators. Operators in Greece, Slovakia, and Czechia bought spectrum in the 700 MHz band in a range of USD 0.23 – 0.34/MHz/POP, less than half of what Italian operators paid in its auction last year. Prices in the 3.5 GHz band were also significantly lower than in recent awards. Greek and Czech operators, for example, paid between USD 0.02 and USD 0.033 /MHz/POP, an order of magnitude lower than the prices reached in Q3 2020, and far below the prices in the ongoing US 3.7 GHz band auction.

In total, over 1700 MHz of assignments were added or changed. This included three spectrum trades, usually a rarity outside the United States. These concerned the 1900 MHz, 2.6 GHz, and 3.5 GHz bands in Chile, the UK, and Sweden, respectively.

The Q4 2020 PSD iteration also includes the results from the French assignment round of its 3.5 GHz band award (the allocation results were reported in Q3 2020), a licence cancellation in Mexico, among other changes, such as renewals in Belgium and Poland.

The PSD tracks changes to global spectrum allocations and assignments from auctions, beauty contests, renewals or the results of trades. It is updated quarterly and is available as part of our  Spectrum Research Service.•