The relentless spread of COVID-19 across Europe has forced a number of regulators to postpone long-awaited auctions of spectrum that would enable operators to launch or expand 5G networks.
Any further delay will be a blow to many operators that had already been complaining about auctions being late compared to other markets. In Portugal, for example, MEO, NOS and Vodafone Portugal now face a further wait for frequency rights in the 700MHz, 900MHz, 1800MHz, 2.1GHz, 2.6GHz and 3.6GHz bands, although regulator Anacom said the three operators had in fact requested a suspension because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In Austria, the Telekom-Control-Kommission (TKK) has decided to postpone its second 5G auction that was scheduled for April 2020. However, the regulator insisted that the auction should still take place in 2020, and would not endanger 5G network rollouts. A1 Telekom Austria, Drei and Deutsche Telekom's Magenta Telekom are hoping to get their hands on 700MHz, 2100MHz and 1500MHz frequencies.
Reuters reported that Spain, served by Euskaltel, MasMovil, Movistar, Orange Spain and Vodafone Spain, has also postponed its auction. Local press reports said the government has informed the European Commission of its decision but has not yet proposed a new date for the allocation of 700MHz frequencies. This also raises the question of how the European Commission intends to deal with 700MHz frequency allocations that miss its deadline of 30 June 2020 because of COVID-19.
Elsewhere, France's regulator Arcep has put on hold the auction of 3.4–3.8GHz frequencies, originally scheduled for April. Orange, Bouygues Telecom, SFR and Free Mobile had all qualified to take part.
In the Czech Republic, it looks like the auction of frequencies in the 700MHz and 3.5GHz bands has been pushed back to the middle of 2020, affecting the rollout plans of O2 CZ, Vodafone CZ and T-Mobile CZ.
More postponements seem likely in the coming weeks, although countries with auction plans beyond April 2020 may sit tight for now.
For more on this topic, see:
- Could COVID-19 supercharge operators' telecom and 5G investments?
- Biggest-ever auction of 5G mmWave spectrum ends at $7.6B
- Thai 5G auction raises $3B as Singapore bids close
- India delays 5G spectrum auction on financial woes
- ITU draws up emergency plans to tackle COVID-19
— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading