Italy spectrum auction looks like a cheap bit of business – RBC

A research note from RBC, the Royal Bank of Canada, suggests Italian telcos in Italy might not have overpaid that much in the grand scheme of things.

This is not to say that the spectrum was cheap, but there is consistency is the rising price of that precious commodity around the world. Italy might have looked expensive to start with, but in comparison to other markets, it is a bit of a steal.

“Italy’s auction caught investors’ attention with a high price for Mid Band 5G,” the note states. “While operators have been quick to decry this as ‘artificial scarcity’, subsequent results appear to validate the Italian result. Sweden’s Low Band was a 22% premium to Italy; while the Australian regional 10-year Mid Band was a 32% premium to Italy’s 19-year Mid Band.”

Throughout the process, the Italian government managed to trouser €6.5 billion through various auctions, around three times more than was expected at the start of the process. It seems the introduction of a fourth MNO did wonders for the governments bank account.

That said, the Italian job might not be that expensive after all. While the 200 MHz of Mid band (3.7 GHz) which sold for €0.36 per MHz/Pop, Sweden saw 40 MHz of Low Band sell for €0.68 per MHz/Pop, 22% higher than in Italy and in Australia the 10-year Mid band licences sell for US$0.54 per MHz/Pop (US$0.56 incl tax), a 32% premium to the Italian 19-year Mid band.

Compared to previous auctions, the prices are starting to increase. South Korea’s 3.5 GHz and auction totalled $3.3bn for an average of $0.19 per MHz/Pop, while in the UK, 2.3 GHz sold for £0.08 /MHz/pop and 3.4 GHz for £0.12 /MHz/pop.

Looking forward, Germany is about to begin its mid band auctions, with the government expecting to raise between €4-5 billion, as is France. Regulator Arcep has already stated it want to try and avoid replicating the expensive prices elsewhere, promising cheaper prices in return for rollout commitments. Finally, the UK will have low and mid band auctions in late 2019.

Vodafone is thought to have the highest level of exposure to the high spectrum costs, with Germany and the UK on the radar for the firm, though RBC estimates Orange will have to write a cheque for €2.1 billion, while Telefonica will have to find more than €4.5 billion for the delayed Spanish auction and the battles in South America.

Treasury ministers will be rubbing their hands together at the prospect.