5G Spectrum auctions in Europe – Policy objectives and auction design
For the rollout of 5G - the newest generation of mobile technology - mobile network operators (MNOs) require access to suitable spectrum to ensure performance and coverage, most notably in the 700 MHz, 3.4-3.8 GHz and 26 GHz frequency bands. In the past four years, almost all regulators in Europe have allocated spectrum in at least some of these 5G frequency bands.
In light of these developments, we take stock in this paper of the 5G spectrum auctions that have happened in Europe so far and investigate which policy objectives policymakers and regulators have pursued and with which instruments.
The main conclusions of our study are
- To date, the 3.4-3.8 GHz band has been allocated in most European countries, the 26 GHz band only in a few.
- When setting out to design spectrum auctions, regulators should choose the auction rules that are best placed to achieve their desired policy objectives.
- To guarantee that at least three MNOs have spectrum in the key 3.4-3.8 GHz band and to ensure sufficient competition in the mobile market, European regulators have widely imposed different kinds of spectrum caps.
- European policymakers and regulators have used different approaches to secure industry access to 3.4-3.8 GHz spectrum such as spectrum set-asides, rental obligations or regional licenses.
- Complex auction formats are becoming less popular, suggesting that policymakers and regulators increasingly care about simplicity, fairness and transparency in auction design.