Sweden decides to delay 5G spectrum allocation

The Swedish Post and Telecom Authority (PTS) has announced it will delay the allocation of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands due to a security review.

The 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands spectrum bands are two of the most attractive when it comes to rolling out 5G services, blending together a palatable compromise between increased download speeds and coverage. These spectrum auctions have proven to be some of the most interesting, though the delay will be an irritant for the ambitious telcos.

Pointing towards new security implications introduced in the country’s electronic communications law (PLAY), which will be implemented on January 1, 2020, the regulator feels it needs more time to continue discussions with police and security agencies. Details are thin on the ground for the moment, though this is hardly going to be viewed as a plus at the telcos who have been demanding more spectrum be released.

In June, progress looked to be gathering momentum as PTS announced a public consultation to release spectrum in the 3.5 GHz and 2.3 GHz bands. 15 national blocks of at least 20 MHz in the 3.4 GHz-3.7 GHz band were set to be auctioned, as well as up to eight 10 MHz nationwide licences at 2.3GHz. The auction was likely to take place in the early part of 2020, though these plans have now been side-lined.

Sweden is not in a unique position when it comes to a need to free-up valuable spectrum assets, though that will come as little comfort to those who were gearing-up for an auction in the coming months. Reviews like this create a sense of uncertainty in the minds of the telcos, and uncertainty is the enemy of investment. You only have to look at the UK for evidence of this.

Thanks to the creation of the Supply Chain Review, the position of Huawei is still an on-going unknown. This has led the telcos to falter with deployment plans. Unless Sweden want to encounter the same problems, such a security review will have to be completed incredibly quickly. Obligations and conditions will have to be considered and relevant, as the last thing anyone will want is protest from industry, further delaying the critical element of certainty.

Many will hope such a security review does not enter the country into the same purgatory which the UK finds itself in with the Supply Chain Review, but it would surprise few if it did.

BT/EE and Three fingered by Ofcom for spectrum shenanigans

Ofcom CEO Sharon White has decided to put pen to paper and rant her way through the weekend, pointing the finger at BT/EE and Three for the UK’s potential failures in the digital economy.

It’s an interesting little rant, which appeared in the form of a by-lined piece in the FT over the weekend, and seems to be laying the foundations for blame should the UK fall behind in the digital arms race. In short, White has her defences up and is preparing for an onslaught should judicial reviews ahead of the 5G spectrum auction drag on for longer than what would be considered ideal.

“We appreciate companies must look after their own positions,” said White. “But commercial interests must not derail a golden opportunity for the UK to achieve leadership in 5G and be among the world’s best connected nations, which will benefit consumers and businesses and give our economy a competitive edge.”

It’s all very British. Nothing has gone wrong yet, but the adults are already preparing for failure. And the troublemakers are BT/EE and Three according to White.

Thanks to legal challenges to spectrum rules, BT/EE and Three have put the digital ambitions of the UK on shaky grounds. Three is arguing Ofcom hasn’t put strict enough controls on what BT/EE can bid for in the upcoming 5G auction, whereas BT/EE is challenging on the grounds the controls are too strict. Currently, the limit on airwave ownership stands at 37%.

Both have argued the challenges are for the benefit of the consumer, but the thinly vailed rationale isn’t too much of a distraction. It is entirely self-serving, as is pretty much every other statement and action in an industry which is proving to be the anti-Christ of customer centricity.

“The courts have agreed to fast-track litigation, but the benefits for mobile users will inevitably be delayed,” said White. “We planned to complete the auction this year. Now we will be in court in December. We believe that auctioning some 5G airwaves early would allow companies to start the vital groundwork to make 5G a reality as soon as possible.”

All the relevant parties will be eye balling the courts from December 5 as the review kicks off. It’ll be a tense three days for the Ofcom offices, as success will bring a sigh of relief and business as usual, but failure will not. Should Ofcom end on the losing side, the result will be months of delays as rules are redrawn. It’ll be back to square one, and of course there is no guarantee there will not be more legal challenges should there be any changes.

The UK is currently sitting in legal limbo for the moment, and considering the fact Ofcom’s CEO felt it necessary to pen a slightly defensive rant it doesn’t give the greatest impression of confidence. If you were to look at this article in isolation, you would probably assume Ofcom has resigned to loss already.

After reading the piece from White, we got in touch with Three, and the team is firmly standing behind the legal challenge. Ofcom seems to be validating its position with this rant, but Three is still wondering how the watchdog got to the number 37 for the cap. This rationale has not been fully explained to date, and considering Three wanted it much lower (a 30% cap on spectrum ownership), the challenge is far from surprising.

Another interesting area which has had Three up in arms is a review of the cap. According to Three, the cap will be reviewed ahead of the release of the 700 MHz spectrum (which will be in 2020 should everything run smoothly), but BT will not be below the cap by this point. Three argues whether there is any meaning to a cap which will not be realized before a review. It does have a point here.

Three might be crafting a bit of a reputation for being a bit moany, and the challenge itself does appear to be self-serving (not necessarily a bad thing), but at least this time there is logic. Three wants the decision making process reviewed independently so it can sleep soundly.