The 4G Auction Results Are In: Vodafone Wins Big

By Sam Gibbs on at

Yes, this is it folks. The auction's over after 50 rounds of bidding, and now the networks have up until midnight tonight to fork out the collective £2.3 billion odd in cash. But who won what, and how much? Seems Vodafone was on a full-on 4G crusade.

A load of different chucks of spectrum in various sizes within in the two auctioned-off bands -- the country-covering 800MHz and high-density-covering 2.6GHz -- were up for grabs.

The four traditional networks, EE, O2, Three, and Vodafone, were joined by one rank-outsider in the winning bids, with BT grabbing two 15MHz and one 20MHz chunk of the 2.6GHz band for the princely sum of £186,476,000. Apparently it's not going to launch a consumer-facing 4G network outright, but will use it to augment its current broadband and phone offerings, which sounds like a connectivity bridge of some kind to me. Anyway, you're apparently not going to get a traditional 4G network out of BT for the time being.

So, how did the others fare? Well, here's where it gets interesting. There are definite winners and losers in the results, although technically they're all winners, I guess.

Three came away with the least bagged spectrum, claiming two 5MHz chunks of the 800MHz band for £225m, which adds to its already-purchased chunk of 4G-capable 1800MHz spectrum that it bought from EE last year. O2 then put £550m down on the table to walk away with two 10MHz chunks of the 800MHz band, which comes with a proviso that it must cover 98 percent of the UK population. Ouch.

The first of the biggest two winners was, EE, with two 5MHz chunks of the 800MHz band, and two 35MHz slices of the 2.6GHz band, which came to the sum total of £588,876,000. Not exactly chump change there, and interesting given EE's already got a big chunk of the 1800MHz 4G band it's already broadcasting its LTE network over now.

Finally, Vodafone showed that it's not pulling any punches. It forked out the most dosh, £790,761,000 to be exact, for the biggest overall allocation of spectrum, bagging two 10 MHz bits of the 800MHz band, plus two 20 MHz and one 25 MHz chunk of the 2.6GHz band.

It's interesting to see Vodafone paying so much more (over £200m) to bag more spectrum than its rivals, which shows that either Vodafone has deep pockets, or that it's going whole-hog into the 4G space, all guns blazing. Of course, this should all be tempered with the news that Ofcom's going to allow networks to broadcast 4G LTE on existing spectrum used for current and previous generation networks. Each network has differing amounts of said 2G and 3G spectrum at their disposal, so actually you might find that as the licenses get opened up, the amount of spectrum dedicated to 4G in the UK from each network might vary.

Still, the take home from all this is that 4G is finally on the way in a full-scale way, that all the major networks will support 4G LTE in some capacity, and that Vodafone's on a 4G rampage, but I wouldn't count the other networks out. Even though both O2 and Three look to have small allocations, they are in the 800MHz band, which should give them the best range, coverage, and building penetration, especially in the early stages as the infrastructure begins to roll out. Exciting times to be a geek in the UK, that's for sure. Let's just hope that the £2.3 billion they've collectively just shelled out doesn't drive up the price of our contracts, because even EE with a monopoly on 4G at the moment, has shown people aren't prepared to pay through the nose for 4G. [Ofcom]