Spectrum auctions resume and the value of 3.5 GHz is confirmed
Oct 29, 2020 by Toby Youell


After a COVID-19 hiatus, regulators have resumed the business of awarding spectrum.

Our newly updated PolicyTracker Spectrum Database (PSD) now takes into account key 5G awards in a further 10 countries, as well as several changes to assignments for other reasons.

The update includes four auctions of the low-band 5G band, 700 MHz, and four auctions of the key mid-band 5G frequency—3.5 GHz. A further two countries, Russia and the UAE, have announced assignments of spectrum in the 26 GHz band, a key high-band frequency for 5G.

Two of these auctions, in Austria and the Netherlands, mixed newly-available spectrum at 700 MHz and in the L-band, with renewals for expiring licences at 2.1 GHz. Israel and Luxembourg both sold spectrum in both the 700 MHz and 3.5 GHz bands, with the former also throwing in 120 MHz of the 2.6 GHz band. Smaller blocks of the 1800 MHz and 2.6 GHz bands were sold in Nepal and Belgium respectively.

Teasing out the prices for specific bands is often difficult as operators receive bundles of licences. But the relatively high prices for heavily-encumbered spectrum at 3.5 GHz suggests that operators are increasingly putting a premium on the band.

Specifically, France’s allocation round for 3.5 GHz spectrum closed at the equivalent of $0.15/MHz/POP, even though these licences include ambitious coverage conditions. The US auction of CBRS Priority Access Licenses at 3.5 GHz also achieved the equivalent of $0.22/MHz/POP, even though the spectrum is low-power only and is dynamically assigned by third parties. It seems that that last year’s 3.5 GHz band auction in Germany, which came to $0.19/MHz/POP, is a benchmark for prices to come, rather than an anomalous function of a dodgy auction design.

Altogether, the assignments comprise over 2,600 MHz of spectrum. This also included, among other changes, a Slovakian trade of the 3.5 GHz band, the purchase of Golan Telecom by Israel’s Cellcom and a renewal of the 2.1 GHz band in Latvia.

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.•