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Dutch 3.5GHz auction still uncertain despite progressDutch 3.5GHz auction still uncertain despite progress

The Netherlands has yet to set a date for the 3.5GHz auction, which is important for improving 5G services, but is close to clearing one important obstacle.

Tereza Krásová

October 16, 2023

3 Min Read
Dutch canals in Amsterdam during winter.
(Source: Baarssen Fokke/Alamy Stock Photo)

The Netherlands has historically been one of the best-performing countries in Europe when it comes to digital transformation. So it may come as a surprise to learn it is one of only two EU member states yet to auction 3.5GHz spectrum.

Despite lengthy delays, the country could soon clear an important obstacle. British satellite operator Inmarsat, which runs a site that uses 3.5GHz spectrum to handle maritime emergency calls, is now close to moving that site to Thermopylae in Greece. It is expected to finalize an agreement with Greece within weeks, Reuters reports.

Inmarsat was originally opposing the move, claiming at one point that it "only uses" about 25% of the spectrum band and saying this leaves enough space for 5G. 

Anushree Agarwal, an analyst at Light Reading's sister company Omdia, said via email that "as per the Dutch government's National Frequency Plan, releasing this frequency would give 5G providers full use of the spectrum, forcing Inmarsat to move a ground station in the northern part of the Netherlands."

Other obstacles remain

She adds that the company launched legal proceedings against the Dutch state in 2021, and the court "ordered the Dutch government to temporarily halt the decision to reserve the bandwidth for telecommunications."

While this dispute is now nearing an end, Inmarsat's move isn't the only issue holding back the 3.5GHz auction. There is also disagreement about how much spectrum should be allocated for different uses. The Ports of Rotterdam and Schiphol Airport have, for example, both appealed the country's spectrum plan saying their allocation is insufficient for their innovation plans.

Agarwal notes that "the Dutch government also needs to finalize the regulations for the 3.5GHz spectrum auction before it can take place. This includes setting the reserve price for the spectrum and determining the terms and conditions of the auction."

The Dutch government was hoping to auction the 3.5GHz frequencies by the end of the year, but a spokesperson for the Dutch Authority for Digital Infrastructure (RDI) told local media last month that this is now impossible.

Agarwal says that "although a new date for the auction has not yet been announced, it is expected that the auction will not take place until the first quarter of 2024, as Inmarsat is targeting a Feb. 1, 2024, launch for its Greek satellite base."

Back of the pack

Mickey Adriaansens, the country's outgoing minister of economic affairs and climate policy, has reportedly told the Dutch media that further delays could result in an EU fine.

Dutch MNOs – KPN, Odido and VodafoneZiggo – have also complained about the delays, saying they need the frequencies to offer faster Internet and meet growing demand for mobile broadband. 

As part of the midband spectrum range, the 3.5GHz band is an important resource for 5G. It can provide the coverage and capacity needed in cities and also be used for IoT and industry 4.0 applications.

The delays already seem to be affecting customer experience, with average and peak download speeds in the Netherlands now classed as some of the slowest in Europe, according to OpenSignal data. The same study also notes that customers in the Netherlands saw the smallest improvement in download speeds between 4G and 5G of all the countries included.

Poland, the other EU country yet to auction 3.5GHz spectrum, does appear to be further ahead in the process. Operators have already submitted their initial bids, with P4, Polkomtel, Orange Polska and T-Mobile SA all set to compete in the second stage of the auction. 

The Polish Office of Electronic Communications reportedly expects the auction to conclude this year. It has already been postponed by several years, with the process initially put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then further delayed by new cybersecurity legislation, which imposed stricter requirements on telecom vendor selection. 

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About the Author(s)

Tereza Krásová

Associate Editor, Light Reading, Light Reading

Associate Editor, Light Reading

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