Telefonica, EE and Three are awarded slices of the spectrum previously used by Freeview. EE will take over the frequency block currently used for COM7.
Ofcom has announced the outcome of the principal stage of its auction to release more airwaves, including former Freeview frequencies, to support the expansion of 5G.
A total of 200 MHz of spectrum was available to bid for in the auction, split across two bands:
- 80 MHz of spectrum (the ex-Freeview 700 MHz band).
- 120 MHz of spectrum in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band (part of the C-Band used for satellite and military communications).
Telefonica (O2), Hutchison (3) and EE (owned by BT) each won 2×10 MHz of paired frequency spectrum in the former Freeview TV frequency band. This will allow the networks to offer lower capacity, high coverage 5G services. It is particularly suitable for rural areas where few users are spread over a wider area.
Additionally, EE has secured a 20 MHz block of supplementary downlink spectrum. This covers the current UHF channels 54-56 – including the frequency used by Freeview multiplex COM7.
How this will affect Freeview
COM7, which carries channels including BBC Four HD, FreeSports and Quest HD, will need to close by 30th June 2022. Should EE require the spectrum earlier, then it must give Ofcom and multiplex operator Arqiva three month’s notice. Arqiva could terminate the multiplex earlier on commercial grounds if it wishes.
Affected channels will have to secure a slot on another Freeview multiplex, switch to online distribution via Freeview Play or leave the platform altogether.
All other Freeview multiplexes were moved to new frequencies between 2017 and 2020. For some households, new aerial and new filters to block interference in the 700 MHz may be required.
Vodafone was the only mobile network operator unsuccessful in obtaining a chunk of the 700 MHz band. However Vodafone, alongside EE and Telefonica have secured 40 MHz in the 3.6-3.8 GHz band, which will offer a high capacity, low coverage service, ideal for areas where there are lot of mobile data users in a small space.
The total revenue raised from the principal stage is £1,356,400,000. The money raised by this auction will be passed on to HM Treasury.
The auction will now move to the ‘assignment’ stage. This process involves a single bidding round in which the companies can bid for the frequency positions they prefer for the airwaves they have secured in the principal stage. Bidders will then have the opportunity to negotiate the frequency positions among themselves – if they want to join together the airwaves they have secured with spectrum they already hold in the wider 3.4-3.8 GHz band.