Competition for Italy's 5G spectrum is likely to be fierce after seven companies were revealed to have entered the forthcoming auction, according to an update from Italy's Ministry of Economic Development.
The auction is unusual in attracting so much interest from outside the existing mobile telecom sector -- recent 5G auctions in South Korea, Spain and the UK have not produced new mobile challengers. (See The Great 5G Spectrum Devaluation, UK's £1.4B '5G' Auction Looks Bad for Industry, Spanish 5G Auction Nets €438M for Govt and South Korea's 5G Auction Raises $3.3B.)
Italy, however, will be auctioning spectrum across a variety of bands, and not just the mid-range airwaves that were made available in Spain and the UK.
The government aims to raise €2.5 billion ($2.9 billion) from the sale of 75MHz in the 700MHz band, 200MHz at 3.6-3.8GHz and 1GHz in the 26.5-27.5GHz range.
The very high band spectrum has attracted interest from companies that want to use 5G as a broadband technology in areas that are hard to reach with fiber.
While spectrum in and around 3.5GHz should help to satisfy demand for smartphone services in busier areas, the 700MHz airwaves are ideal for providing wide area coverage.
Because of its propagation qualities, sub-GHz spectrum has tended to attract higher valuations in previous spectrum auctions.
The inclusion of 700MHz airwaves in Italy's forthcoming sale could explain why it is expected to raise more than recent auctions in Spain and the UK.
Spanish authorities generated about €438 million ($508 million) from selling 3.6-3.8GHz spectrum, while UK authorities raised about £1.15 billion ($1.5 billion) from licensing the 3.4GHz band.
Reports indicate two 80MHz and two 20MHz licenses will be sold in the 3.6-3.8GHz bands, and that authorities will divide the high-band spectrum into five 200MHz blocks. Iliad (Euronext: ILD) appears to be the only operator to have confirmed it will bid for 700MHz airwaves.
Even so, competition over a relatively small amount of spectrum could drive up auction prices to levels that will add to the pressure on Italian telcos.
South Korea's three operators each acquired at least 80MHz of 3.5GHz spectrum during that country's auction, while Orange Spain indicated that its mid-band holdings of 100MHz -- following a recent auction -- would give it a big advantage over rivals with less spectrum.
Operators in Italy have been rattled by the recent arrival of Iliad, a French operator that managed to sign up more than 1 million customers in its first 50 days in the market. (See Iliad Grabs 1M Customers by Day 50 of Italian Odyssey.)
While Iliad's service launch appears to have had a bigger impact on Wind Tre and Vodafone, Telecom Italia (TIM) recently said that 5G auction costs might force it to sell assets. (See ZTE Ban & Iliad Entry Blow Wind Tre Off Course.)
The Italian incumbent today announced it had finished deploying an advanced 4G network in Turin that uses a virtualized radio access network (VRAN). The rollout of VRAN technology could help to lower the costs of building 5G networks. (See Eurobites: Turin Shrouded in vRAN by TIM, Ericsson.)
Participants in the Italian auction are required to submit bids by September 10.
— Iain Morris, International Editor, Light Reading