UK regulator Ofcom announced plans to hold a 5G auction in January 2021, rejecting calls from some operators which had lobbied for an allocation process rather than a traditional sale.

In a statement, Ofcom stated the auction would cover the sale of 80MHz in the 700MHz band and 120MHz of spectrum in the 3.6GHz to 3.8GHz band.

The UK regulator said the net result would be a nearly 20 per cent increase in mobile capacity following the auction, which was delayed by the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic.

Ofcom’s move will likely draw criticism from the country’s operators, with both Vodafone UK and O2 UK calling for a different approach to divvying up frequencies in light of recent challenges.

Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery told Financial Times it wanted Ofcom to abandon the auction, and instead distribute spectrum to the four major operators in the nation for a reserve price of around £1.2 billion.

He argued this would be best approach, given the costs it faces to comply with a government order to replace Huawei kit in its networks by 2027.

In May, O2 UK threatened a legal challenge to the rules of the auction, stating it wanted the regulator to harmonise the lots of spectrum into contiguous blocks rather than selling them as fragmented slices.

Ofcom addressed the operators’ concerns in its statement, arguing auctions rather than an administrative process was the best way to meet the high demand for airwaves.

“Having examined this suggestion, we do not believe it would meet our duty to secure optimal use of the UK’s spectrum”.