ComReg spectrum award announced

Irish telecoms regulator ComReg announced 5G multiband spectrum award. More precisely, it published the information memorandum and starts accepting applications from bidders. This stage follows already after many months of preparations. ComReg will grant licences in the bands 700 MHz, 2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz and 2.6 GHz. The applications will be accepted until 6 August. The bidding itself may take place in the final quarter of this year.

ComReg will award in total 470 MHz spectrum. As the award concerns several bands, ComReg wisely chose the CCA format. That stands for Combinatorial Clock Auction. The whole process will be rather complex, as there are eight block types. The complexity is given by several types of bands, including TDD and FDD type, as well as award of either fixed or generic lots. All blocks will have 5 MHz (paired or unpaired).

Types of blocks ComReg offers in the multiband spectrum award will include:

  • 700 MHz duplex blocks;
  • 2.1 GHz band blocks;
  • 2.3 GHz band generic blocks;
  • 2.3 GHz band fixed block; and
  • four types of blocks sole in the 2.6 GHz band: FDD blocks; TDD fixed lower block; TDD generic blocks; and TDD fixed upper block.

Another complication stems from the fact that ComReg will award spectrum blocks, except for the 700 MHz band, in two different time slices. While the 700 MHz band has a rather straightforward 20-year licence period starting in February 2022, the rest of the spectrum pool has licence periods either from the Time slice 1 from 2022 to 2027 or the Time slice 2 from 2027 to 2042.

ComReg set also different reserve prices varying across the block types and the respective Time slice. They range from €25,000 to €3.188m. One of the six 2×5 MHz blocks in the 700 MHz band has a reserve price of €9.158m.

Successful bidders will have to meet certain coverage obligations, defined in terms of either the number of base stations or as percentage of the population coverage. They will have to pay one-off spectrum access fee prior to the grant of the licence. Subsequently, they will also pay annual spectrum usage fees over the whole licence period.

ComReg will award the spectrum with certain Quality of Service (QoS) obligations such as:

  • minimum “availability of the network” standard;
  • minimum “voice call” standard; and
  • a “VoLTE availability” obligation.

ComReg will award spectrum with delay

All EU member states should have awarded the 700 MHz band by June 2020, in exceptional cases by June 2022. This was the case in Poland, for example. Poland informed the European Commission that it would delay the 700 MHz band award for use by mobile broadband due to unresolved cross-border harmonisation issues with Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The pandemic in 2020 also did not contribute to speeding up the 5G award processes, including in Ireland. However, ComReg flexibly responded to increased data demand as a result of the massive switch to home offices. Therefore, ComReg awarded in April 2020 temporary licences in the 700 MHz band and liberalised 2.1 GHz band, which until then could only be used for 3G.

ComReg several times extended the temporary licences of the three major MNOs, originally valid for only 3 months. As a result, eir, Three and Vodafone can now benefit from the temporary licences until 1 July 2021.

ComReg will now accept applications documentation for the multiband spectrum award in two phases, namely until 18 June and until 6 August. Within each phase, applicants will have an opportunity to submit questions. ComReg will also hold an online presentation on the award process and the auction rules. In mid-August, the regulator will organise a bidder training (auction playground). We can expect the bidding itself to be completed until the year-end – just in time for the planned start date of the licences in February 2022.

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