It's Not Just the Usual Networks Anymore -- There Are 7 Different Bidders in the UK's 4G Spectrum Auction

By Sam Gibbs on at

Ofcom's released the names of the companies who are all-in, bidding for the UK 4G spectrum allocation, and there's not four, but seven of them. The usual suspects are all there, of course -- Vodafone, Three, O2 and EE -- but then we've got some surprise contenders. BT for one, another Hong Kong-based phone network, and some chaps from Buckinghamshire. This just got interesting.

Putting your regular UK networks aside for a moment, you've got BT, under the guise of Niche Spectrum Ventures in the mix. It makes sense considering BT offers everything else communications wise -- broadband, TV, phone, Wi-Fi. Hell that would be one killer all-in-one network if it managed to pick up a chunk of 4G spectrum. Perhaps we'll finally be able to realise the dream of the one data contract for everything -- that would be beautiful.

Then you've got MLL Telecom, a Marlow, Buckinghamshire-based network provider, which you've probably never heard of. Apparently it already owns a chunk of the existing mobile spectrum in the UK, so the back end of the market then, but it'd be interesting to see what it could do with some LTE. Something tells me it'd be aimed at static, cellular-provided broadband rather than phones, but who knows.

Also trying to get in on UK LTE action is another Hong Kong-based telecoms company, HKT-PCCW. It's part of good old Cable and Wireless, which you might remember from back in the days of UK cable before Virgin got in on the act. Like Three (Hutchinson), it's owned an operated from China, which means we could have a second Chinese infiltrator into the UK mobile market.

Complete with the four current UK networks, they've all dropped £100,000 to be part of the full UK 4G auction for the allocation of the 800MHz and 2.6GHz spectrum bands. Where as 800MHz will provide greater area coverage from a single mast, and greater building penetration, 2.6GHz can, in theory, provide greater data carrying capacity, due to the higher frequency. So, the ideal scenario is to have 800MHz for the country, and 2.6GHz for the towns and cities -- a difficult task when you've got that many companies on the table with deep pockets.

Considering EE's already got a chunk of 1.8GHz spectrum to play with, I suspect its main concern will be the 800MHz allocation. The others will all be fighting it out for both frequencies, which will certainly make it interesting. The government is expecting £3-£4 billion to be raised by the auction, so we're not exactly talking pocket change here.

At any rate, it'll be interesting to see what the other, non-mainstream mobile providers do with their networks, if they manage to have enough buying power to grab a chunk of a 4G band or two that is. Disappointingly, Virgin's not in the mix here, at least not directly, even though it had been testing its own LTE equipment. I guess it's likely to try and continue to piggyback on the likes of Vodafone or EE as an MVNO, which could leave BT as the only provider of everything (TV, broadband, phone and mobile phone) across its own networks.

We'll find out who ends up winning in the big 4G battle, and how much they're all forking out, at some point early next year. Until then, we can only hope that the winners end up squashing down each others' 4G prices, because EE could definitely do with some positive price pressure, that's for sure. [Ofcom]